(Written as part of ‘The Daily Post: Future Past’ prompt – As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?)
“A Doctor!? That’s fantastic!”
How many children hear this from their elders when asked about their future aspirations? From what I’ve seen, quite a lot.
As opposed to saying “That’s great! However, there are also many other great professions too! Don’t think about what others tell you, think about what YOU would like to be”, many youngsters have been brainwashed from a young age to think that some of the only professions that are worthy of being spoken of, and boasted about by our parents, are doctors, dentists and engineers.
From what I have been told by my mother, ever since I was three years old, I would always say that I wanted to grow up to be a neurologist – I would happily ‘examine’ any head that came my way with my favourite crayon and a ruler, leaving behind colourful trails of my diagnosis.
Whether I solely said this to make my parents proud – the stereotypical hope of their child becoming a doctor, as with many families of South East Asian/Middle Eastern decent, often lingered in the air around us – or whether I said it because I truly wanted it, I’ll never know.
However, I can say that I am one of the lucky ones.
I grew up with parents who supported me in the choices I wanted to make in life, and I still remember my dad telling me before I was applying for my university course “Do what makes you happy. It’s your life and your path to chose. Money doesn’t bring happiness, but a content heart does.”
You see, this isn’t a common occurrence within South East Asian/Middle Eastern families, but being born and brought up in Scotland by an English mother and South East Asian/Middle Eastern father really did open doors of chance for me.
Up until the age of fifteen, I continued to strive towards the dream of becoming a neurologist, however, that all changed when my high school physics teacher stepped into the iron-clad equation.
Remember that experiment that we do in school where a small test tube is filled with methane gas, a lit taper is slid inside, and POP!?
Well, this was the kind of man who, after school hours with the school technician, decided he wanted to try this with a huge black bin liner instead of a test tube.
Needless to say, the next day in class our questions went unanswered because he couldn’t hear anything! The POP was a lot louder than he had anticipated! (The nut!)
He showed me how much I truly loved physics and learning about the mechanics of our world and solar system (and how much I disliked coffee), and so I decided to apply for ‘Physics and Astronomy’ as well as Medicine as a course option.
Also, as mentioned in another blog post I had written as part of the Daily Post Challenge: Blog your Block, the cosmos also became more meaningful to me after a certain incident involving my sister, a slip up, and my inability to physically see the heavens above me due to my partial blindness.
A relevant excerpt from the post:
“Many years ago, my older sister and I stood outside at the foot of our house, in the midst of the eccentric but homely neighbourhood that we had come to know, and admired the fresh night air.
She looked up and gasped with joy “Wow! Look at all those stars!” Suddenly, her words came to a halt and she covered her mouth with her hand.
For that magical moment in time, she had forgotten that her little sister could not see the beautiful celestial painting above her.
“You’re right, it really is phenomenal!” I smiled as I pointed my face up at that twinkling sky, and closed my eyes as I took in the very essence of the beauty before me.
I could not see the stars, but I could feel their warmth.
I could not see the crescent moon, but I could feel it smiling down at me.
I could not see the constellations, but I could feel the story behind their mythological names.”
Since I could not see the stars, then maybe I could reach out to them in other ways – at least that was my thinking at the time.
To my surprise, I managed to get a place in both courses and so I had to decide between them.
Fifteen years of wanting to do Neurology, or a few years of seeing my passion for Physics and Astronomy growing, which would it be?
I ticked my option on my choice sheet without much thought and sent it away, and have never looked back.
The stars were in my destiny.
I managed to attain an Honours degree in Physics with Astrophysics, and then a Masters in Space Mission Analysis and Design (Aerospace engineering).
Designing satellite orbits and space missions helped to combine my curiosity about the great unknown, with my longing to reach for those stars and explore that which even the healthiest of eyes cannot see without help.
I was lucky to then work on different missions by the European Space Agency, ESA, and try my hand at different parts and stages of mission design.
Considering that I am known as a technology-jinx, this has all been quite a ‘fun filled’ adventure – that big red button that we are told not to press was definitely made for me!
(I’ll never understand why they have to make the one thing that we’re not supposed to go near so tempting to look at!)
Currently, I am taking some time away from work due to ill health and to care for my mum, but this time away has helped me to rediscover my love of the arts and those hobbies which took a backseat due to the very limited free-time offered by a life in academia.
Do I think I should have become a neurologist? As much as I admire those in the medical profession, no.
Considering that the possibility of finding jobs in the space related field are limited, will I still try to remain within it? I hope so.
Should I become an astronaut? If I can manage to have my eyesight corrected someday, I will be blogging on this website from another planet 🙂
I hear Saturn is nice during this time of year!