2009 AWM Essay Contest:
Music + Math = Linda Kadis
Have you ever thought when and why we start being interested in one subject and really dislike the other? I think that one of the crucial roles in this choice is played by our teachers. Teachers often are the first people who introduce us to mathematics and science, history and art, and on many occasions they become the most influential people in our lives who shape our future career paths. Their importance is unfortunately often overlooked or forgotten, although it is the teachers who enlighten our interests and curiosity. I would like to devote my essay to the person who brightens my interest in mathematics, my statistics teacher Ms. Linda Kadis.
What comes to mind when we think of a mathematician? Is it someone locked up in a room with endless bookshelves and heaps of paper, trying to prove another conjecture? Or maybe it is someone who “crunches” dull numbers? Is that really what it takes to be considered a mathematician? Linda Kadis proves us completely wrong with a fascinating career filled with an intriguing combination of music and mathematics.
Linda Kadis was born in Wisconsin. A typical girl, she enjoyed going to school, but did not like any subject in particular. One might describe her actions as exploring the world, but not focusing on any specific part of it. Linda attributes her later interest in science to her grandmother, who was very good in mathematics, often helping the school teacher to prepare class assignments when she was a student herself. Little Linda had participated in some mathematical contests "for fun" and even earned some prizes, but did not yet consider mathematics or science as a possible career path. One of her hobbies at that time was music, and Linda says that she began singing as soon as she started walking. In addition, she studied piano and guitar in her school years. Yet, balancing two competing interests in mathematics and music, Linda could have never imagined her future self as a popular singing star or as a mathematics teacher; but life can be way more puzzling and interesting than any of our dreams.
Having moved to California and attending California State University in Hayward, Ms. Kadis was still undecided about her career. In fact, she was stirred into the vibrant new wave music style of San Francisco. With her self-written songs, Linda amazed the Bay Area public through her exclusive mix of new wave, world beat and punk. Her goal, however, was to create a self-produced album, “So Long Ago-Go.”
At the same time, she was wrapping up her bachelor's degree in college, finally choosing chemistry as her major. However, Ms. Kadis later realized that she despised dissections and labs, as she said, "dissecting frogs was too much for me." She took a second plunge into music after graduating, and met a group of similar-minded musicians who formed a rock band called “The Synics,” later to be renamed to “Urban Renewal.” What was so cool about a six-person garage band? First of all, “Urban Renewal” had completely original songs, all written by Ms. Kadis. The band was very popular thorough Bay Area for its distinctive mix that did not fade and amused audiences even though its first album was released long after the songs were written.
Ms. Kadis, however, finally decided that her true passion in life was to teach mathematics and science to children. So she undertook another sharp upheaval in her life and after a ten-year break, she was full into mathematics again, teaching at Mission San Jose High School. Ms. Kadis especially likes statistics, and her favorite mathematical result is the Central Limit Theorem, which deals with predicting the distribution of a random sample. She is fascinated by the simplicity and versatility of this mathematical result and how broadly it applies in the real world. While nowadays her main focus is on mathematical statistics, Ms. Kadis is also interested in exploring string theory and fractals.
One might think that music and mathematics are two very distant subjects that have nothing in common. Linda Kadis, on the contrary, finds a sharp link between them. She believes that both fields share resembling beauty and harmony. Ms. Kadis says that often, one of these subjects serves as a true inspiration for the other. You may equally obtain a novel mathematical result while listening to blues or write a new song or jazz composition inspired by an elegance of a theorem. Linda Kadis has ceased to find the dividing line in her passion for both, as mathematics and music have become equally important parts of her personality, which make up the image of this extraordinary woman.
As an instructor of mathematics in Mission San Jose High School, Ms. Kadis teaches her subject with passion and enjoyment. I believe that one of the most important goals in teaching mathematics is to support and motivate students’ interest. It is very important not to discourage students who have difficulties and instead fascinate them with the beauty and versatility of mathematics. Young girls especially are often disheartened to pursue a mathematical career because it is not a traditional career path for them; often, they do not receive the important and so desperately needed incentive from their parents or teachers. I am very happy that I was one of Ms. Kadis’ pupils because she both inspires me as a poignant mathematician, making statistics much easier to understand, and supports me in my mathematical pursuits.
Leading a life of exploration and self-realization, Ms. Kadis is a role-model for many of today's starting scientists and musicians alike, but especially for young women who want to pursue a career in these areas. She said that there are many more opportunities for women in sciences today than when she was growing-up. Ms. Kadis attributes this change to the different expectations of modern society, where children, both girls and boys, have more equal opportunities and can devote their lives to professions that they really love. Her advice to aspiring female mathematicians, and young scientists in general, is to pursue what they like doing best and ignore the prejudices of others. To Ms. Kadis, a profession is more of an exciting journey rather than a money-paying confinement in an office. With a life she considers "bimodal" in math and music interests, Linda Kadis sets an excellent example of creativity, passion and fearless willingness to explore world in front of us.