Yesterday I interviewed a couple of mathematicians. I was dreading it because even while researching the article I got a headache. I tried to figure out what their areas of expertise were and everything just started glazing over.
I really do hate maths.
Finally, I figured out some very broad and general questions and crossed my fingers that these eminent experts in their fields would not be embarrassed by them. And that they would answer them without going off into jargon, which is what generally happens when I interview scientists, especially those in the academic arena.
Weirdly, it was fine.
My attempts at abstract questions fell flat (because frankly they bordered on making no sense) but they answered the to-the-point simplistic questions well. Yes, there were things I didn’t catch but that was generally when they were reminiscing about eminent Russian and Chinese scientists who had formulated the theories we study in textbooks. The interview was more like a conversation between the four people there, peppered with “oh Markov, he founded the Academy of so-and-so”… and some story and giggles. Most of all, they seemed like nice people.
Anyway, I came away with the never-before-had feeling that mathematicians are people too.
* * *
When I was 15, I decided that despite my stellar academic record and propensity to geekilly top the class, I was going to study Arts in college and not Science. I’ll admit that a small part of it was rebellion – I disliked the idea that everyone assumed I would take Science, an assumption that involved schoolteachers calling up my mum after the board results were out to convince her to change my mind. The compromise was that I took Math in the 11th and 12th, an option that our college annoyingly offered. It was the class I bunked the most and very nearly flunked one exam, a historic first because I had never flunked an exam in my life.
Beneath the rebellion there must have been some instinct about where my real interests lay, despite me confusingly testing high in math on an aptitude test (but very low on physics and logic) and being urged to at least do commerce. Apart from the Math class in college, I genuinely was interested in what I was studying in college and (gasp) enjoyed going to class. I will never regret the decision to major in Literature because it was a year of loving what I learnt.
But sometimes I think science allows you to do more life-changing things. As a kid, I had always wanted to be a vet, and I still think I would have made a good one. But it’s something that I gave up on because I didn’t want to do science. I think I would’ve made a good doctor too… I think being a doctor is one of those professions where you don’t have to be at the top of your profession to change lives, you do it every single day. My brother-in-law, an engineer, is working on a project that could literally change the world.
I know that as a journalist one could do this too, though it generally doesn’t happen because the profession isn’t set up that way. Or maybe I just didn’t make enough effort or have the grit and courage that being a journalist that makes a difference needs. I know that artists are important, that there’s a reason dictators try very hard to silence artists.
But these days, I wonder what would have happened if I had been in science. And then I think… oh well, at least I’m not a banker.