What do you wanna be when you grow up?
If you've ever given up on a dream or if your dreams took you somewhere unexpected, this one's for you.
I remember when I was six, I really wanted to be an astronaut. Even though my parents tried to get me to play outside as much as they could, they always called me into the house if there was a documentary about space on TV. My mind was buzzing with questions about black holes and the beginning of the universe and I wanted to understand all of it! I thought one day I could travel to space and be a real astronaut.
(Listen, I thought astronauts were the ones doing all the science… in space. I mean come on, I was six.)
Soon, however, I realized that none of the adults I knew were astronauts. Even on TV there was never an astronaut from my country. This must have been some rare job you can only get if you’re special, like being a rock star, or the president. So how was I supposed to become one? As I grew up, I saw it more and more as only an interesting hobby and a childish unrealistic dream.
I enrolled in a medical high school, deciding to instead become a doctor. You know, the kind people are actually looking for when someone yells: “Is anyone here a doctor?! This man is dying!” It was nice because there was a lot of chemistry and almost no physics. I was not a big fan of physics at all. “A canister filled with water is leaking at a rate of…” Agh! I don’t care! What a boring subject.
Then one day my physics teacher told us that we would be learning about space.
My most hated subject was somehow related to my favorite thing? And this adult knew something about space? Maybe regular people can be astronomers! Is this possible? Is hope coming back into my life? Are dreams worth pursuing? “No,” my teacher said, “I don’t think you can study physics after attending a medical high school. Sorry.” He didn’t look sorry.
So I tried to continue on my boring path and enroll in the medical faculty at a couple of universities. I wasn’t accepted. I had become less interested in becoming a doctor by this point, but it still hurt. What a failure. It just proves I’m not special. I’m not even average. To think I ever dared to dream of being an astronomer. What am I even supposed to do now?
“Hey, did you know that the University of Novi Sad has an astronomy curriculum at the physics department?”
With those words my cousin changed my life. Now this isn’t the point of this post, but I would like to take this opportunity to point out a valuable lesson: Saying you don’t know something is much better than guessing and making stuff up! My physics teacher was very, very wrong. You can definitely enroll in whatever faculty you want, regardless of your high school, it’s just a matter of how hard it will be.
I enrolled in the University of Novi Sad, Department of Physics. Physics… My parents were very confused about my decision. Even I was very confused about my decision. But it turned out physics isn’t so bad if you have a fun teacher. It also turned out astronomy wasn’t all fun and games. Sometimes it’s messy and hard, but it’s always worth the effort.
I’ve since started a PhD in Oslo, on my way to becoming the kind of doctor people really don’t need when they yell: “Is anyone here a doctor?! This man is dying!” I’ve lived in six different countries and simulated several black holes and millions of galaxies. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that six-year-old and tell her to keep dreaming, tell her that you don’t have to be special to make your dreams come true. If someone out there did it, so can you! And if no one ever did it, then try and be the first! And if not, hope that the stars will align and you’ll have a cousin who’s in the right place at the right time.
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