James D. Watson: “Extend yourself intellectually through courses that initially frighten you”

The famous geneticist James Watson, of the double helix fame, about his relations with mathematics:

All through my undergraduate days I worried that my limited mathematical talents might keep me from being more than a naturalist.  In deciding to go for the gene, whose essence was surely in its molecular properties, there seemed no choice but to tackle my weakness head-on.  Not only was math at the heart of virtually all physics, but the forces at work in three-dimensional molecular structures could not be described except with math.  Only by taking higher math courses would I develop sufficient comfort to work at the leading edge of my field, even if I never got near the leading edge of math.  And so my Bs in two genuinely tough math courses were worth far more in confidence capital than any A I would likely have received in a biology course, no matter how demanding.  Though I would never use the full extent of the analytical methods I had learned, the Poisson distribution analyses needed to do most phage experiments soon became satisfying instead of a source of crippling anxiety.

[From J. D. Watson, Avoid Boring People, Vintage Books, New York, 2010, p. 51]

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