Thursday, September 25, 2008

math and science

It’s funny that these two are always paired – the implication is that in order to do science, you must be some sort of math whiz. How many girls think that “I can’t do math” and never consider doing science?

I’m a big believer in so-called emotional intelligence. There’s a whole range of smarts out there that aren’t covered by a test. In my case, my primary strength is language. In fact, I do a lot of writing on the side that doesn’t involve science at all.

What I am not good at is math. A fairly privileged upbringing, education at a fancy SLAC, and several grad courses have shown that I am not good at math no matter who teaches it or how it’s taught. Before taking the GREs, I fought my way through the entire prep book and took all the tests for the math section, and then I casually thumbed through the vocab section and giggled at the incorrect definitions/connotations. My scores? Upper 99% for English, bottom 2% for math (for science grads).

Do you need to know math to do science? Yes, but you tend to use the same set of “tools” over and over. I may need to pull out some paper and work things out that other folks can do in their head, and I tend to look up things that my engineering friends think are laughably simple (hey, I don’t use the quadratic equation in daily life). I worked my ass off in calculus, got a bad (but passing) grade, and promptly forgot everything except for what integrals and derivatives look like. But I’ve managed so far by looking up whatever I’m missing in my old textbooks and exercises.

Most people I know who have a knack for math have gone into finance and not science. The sciences will never pay close to what wall street does. Maybe instead of worrying about math geniuses, we should find smart students (regardless of how they “test”) who have a passion for learning and the fortitude to persevere in the face of poor funding and defenders of the status quo.

1 comment:

EcoGeoFemme said...

It's great that you have been able to work around your limitations. That's part of having real smarts. :)

I think I'm secretly good at math, but I stopped after one semester of college calculus because of a bad experience in high school. My biggest regret from college is not taking more math. I feel hamstringed sometimes by my limited skills. I know there are all sorts of cool things I could do if I just had more calculus or differential equations. However, I don't regret it enough to go take more classes!