, watercolor. Carolyn Johnston, 2004.
Contact Carolyn at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was an underachieving child and teenager, and math was always one of my worst subjects.
However, my dad was a pharmaceutical researcher with a specialty in pharmocokinetics (a very mathematical branch of biochemistry), and he used to leave yellow legal papers scattered around the house with integrals and derivatives and Greek letters scribbled all over them, and I thought they looked extremely cool. It was also the late 60s, a time in which a lot of exciting things like space travel seemed possible, and mathematics seemed the key to the castle.
Remember Mr. Spock? He used to say things to Captain Kirk like, "Captain, I calculate that the probability of our colliding with that asteroid is 87.196 percent." I thought it was extremely cool to be able to calculate probabilities down to the third decimal point in your head (but see the footnote).
As a senior in college with an art major, and worried about my extreme lack of earning potential, I shocked everyone by switching my major without warning to mathematics and computer science ("Hadn't you better try a math class before you do this?", the guidance counselor asked me). Eager to make up for lost time, I took two classes in one summer -- Calculus 1 and 2 -- and quickly dropped the computer science component of my new major. With only a few detours, I went straight through school after that and earned my math Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 1990 (dissertation title: "Zeros of primary summand functions on 3-dimensional compact solvmanifolds"
: look for it in a bookstore near you). Since then I've worked as a researcher and professor, and then as an image processing researcher and manager in industry; everyday middle-aged life is very distracting, but I still think that doing
math is a blast, and getting
to do it a privilege.
I am living proof that you can be really bad at something, and then turn around and be really good at it. Nothing is written in stone, with kids.
Now our youngest son is showing signs of being as uninterested in school as I once was, but I am onto him. He's at least going to get out of public school without glossing over the basics. And I am going to be right there with him, and on his case as much as he needs me to be.
I live with my husband, son, two stepsons and dogs, and work as a manager and engineer in a remote sensing firm, on the Front Range region of Colorado. Email me at: carolynjATkitchentablemathDOTnet.
For more background, see Math in the Blood, parts one and two.
(Footnote: Nobody, it turns out, can really calculate weird probabilities like this to the third decimal point in their head, and if they tell you they can, they are lying.)