Question: If you had to choose between teaching math and
dancing, which would you pick?
If I had to decide and I could only teach either physics or math, or
ballet, it would be a really tough decision. I think probably I would
teach the math because you can keep teaching a subject like math or
physics forever, essentially. Whereas with dance, you have to stay in
shape and if you don't stay in shape it gets harder and harder to teach
the class. That's not saying that every teacher has to be at the top of
her peak or his peak, but for me I don't feel like I'm demonstrating
well if I can't do the steps myself.
So if I were teaching
dance, of course I would be doing more dance, but I think if I had to
make a choice, as tough as it would be I would probably go with math as
what I'd teach.
Question: Is there a specific benefit
of excelling both science and the arts?
For one thing, it's very satisfying. For another, you get paid a lot
better as a scientist than as an artist. I actually make a living as a
writer, but it goes up and down and enough of a living to pay a mortgage
on a house, and buy a car, and send a child to college oversees, no
it's not enough of a living for that.
In other arts, for example
music, I also sing and play concerts. And for people who are doing
acting, and playing instruments, it's really hard to make a living
unless you happen to be one of the people that hits really big. Whereas
in science, once you get the degree, if you're reasonably good at what
you do, you can pretty much get a well-paying job. So I would say the
benefit of doing both is that when the arts side goes down as far as
whether the economy goes bad or I don't happen to get a contract this
term or whatever, you still have income from your work as a scientist.
I think from a more creative point of view, the two complement each
other. A lot of my writing has mathematics in it just because for me it
fits so well. When I think about math it gives me an idea for the
writing and when I think about the writing I go “Wait a minute, that
gave me an idea how to solve a problem that I was working on in the
physics or the math.” As to how that happens or why I couldn't tell
Question: What’s the biggest challenge in working
in both arts and sciences?
Catherine Asaro: I would
say that both ask of you a lot of time. If you want to excel in either,
it's not enough just to be profoundly talented because no matter how
talented someone is and I sometimes see that with my math students. I'll
get someone who I know has the potential to do brilliant work, but you
also have to want to put in the time to do it. It has to be the thing
that excites your passion, because it takes hours or work. You know, we
talked about prodigies in music, well yes, they're prodigies because not
only are they good but they play the piano for hours a day.
with my daughter who was sometimes called a prodigy as a ballet dancer,
yes she was very good but the reason she was dancing professional at
such a young age was because she put in six, seven hours a day sometimes
dancing. And science is the same; if you want to get a degree, getting a
physics major is not an easy curriculum. Getting a degree in math,
going to graduate school and getting a doctorate in a scientific or
mathematical subject, it's a big time commitment. And then when you go
out into the world to work, you have to keep up on all the research. You
have to do your own work.
If you're at a university you could
be spending 70, 80, 90 or more hours a week on your job. So I would say
the biggest challenge is finding the time to do both and do them well.
What advice do you give your daughter about her own artistic and
Catherine Asaro: I remember very
much telling her when she would say, "Maybe I'll just quit ballet.
Maybe I'll just quit math." I'd say, "Well you could do that." And she
also was playing the piano excessively too. I said, "You're doing a lot,
and it might help you to balance things better." I said, "But you know I
quit dancing when I was in college and I've always regretted it. I was
able to go back and pick up the, some of the techniques so I can still
dance." I said, "But I wished I hadn't." And she said, "Okay, I'll think
about it." And she thought about it, and she decided when she would
periodically think about eliminating one of those things. She usually
decided not to. What we told her was, we would support whatever she
wanted to do. If she wanted to keep doing all three we would find ways
to help her balance. If she wanted to drop something we would be
supportive of that too.
And in fact, she did, when she was 6
years old. This is when it started coming up. It was pretty young. She
was doing the both the ballet and gymnastics. She is very talented
physically for coordinated-type exercises. And the coach said, "I think
she can be a really good competitive gymnast."
And so they were
training her to do that when she was 6-years-old and she was going many
hours. And she said, "Mom I don't think I want to do this." She said, "I
like the performance part of dancing more than the competitive part of
gymnastics." And I said the same thing to her then. I said, "If you
decide it's really what you don't want to do then we'll drop it because
you shouldn't put that much pressure on yourself if you don't feel it's
what you want to do." And the thing I usually always told her was think
about it for a few days and so she thought about it.
And in that
case she came back and she said, "I'm pretty sure it's not what I want
to do." So she stopped doing gymnastics and I don't think she ever went
back to it after that. Another thing that she always wanted to do was
singing. She didn't have much time so she hasn't done a lot of it. But
it's the same I told her with that. Never feel that you're not able to
do something if you want to. I said, "Don't put pressure on yourself to
do it if you don't feel you have time or you don't feel you're ready, or
you're not sure whether you want to do it or not." I said, "Just the
thing to remember is don't do anything that you want to do because you
think you won't be able to do it."
I said, "Always try. It
doesn't matter if you're not the best in it, that's okay. As long as you
enjoy it." So I think that was probably the best advice I gave her was,
don't limit yourself.
Recorded on June 7,