My father loves the Discovery channel. When I was young, we would watch Bill Nye the Science Guy together. I was enthralled. We replicated what he taught us on his show. I was always a curious child and pestered my Dad with many, many, many scientific questions. Together, we would smear the coffee table with soap. Then, we would use straws to blow mountains of bubbles, bubbles inside bubbles, smoke inside one bubble (my dad used to smoke). The smoke was stuck inside ONE bubble! Wow, physics is cool! (Smoking is not cool.)
In school, I was drawn to science. From growing a plant from a dry kidney bean in second grade to placing blue dye in water and seeing it be sucked up by a celery stick. Later, we learned how to build bridges to prove that triangles were the strongest shape and how to program a serving robot in primary school. I was in love. High school brought even cooler experiments, like a pulley system to launch super balls as high as possible. I was lucky to have two passionate science teachers that taught us with examples we could relate to. In Grade 11, I won a medal of excellence for physics. When I had to choose a field of study, I had no idea what I wanted to be, so I chose what I loved, physics. The University of Ottawa sent me an early acceptance letter—probably because they wanted more diversity in their classrooms. I remember opening the large envelope and the car and screaming at the top of my lungs. I was so happy.
Up until that point, I had been sheltered in my small town and my small classes. My first two semesters at university were a slap in the face. I passed Calculus I by the skin of my teeth. It was a nightmare. Our teacher and my classmates all seem to know who Ellen was. It took me a little to long to realize the teacher was saying the letters L and N, not the name Ellen. There were things like the natural logarithm, also known as ln, that I hadn’t learned in high school, or maybe I just missed the memo.
Five of my friends and I failed Calculus II. In turn, I failed Physics II, because I needed to know how integrals worked to solve physics problems. I decided to drop out and switch faculties within my university, but I was denied this move because my grades were no longer high enough. I was told I had to raise my average, so I took all the “extra” classes I could think of, including two geology classes, French literature, and a class called “magic” with a lady who believed she was a witch (I got an A, so maybe I’m a witch now?). I also took Calculus II again. My new calc teacher was amazing. He explained the methods in a way that was simple to understand, I passed with ease.
At that point, I was frustrated. I now knew how integrals worked, so what should I do now? Should I stick with my original plan to study physics and try to work for the Canadian Space Agency? I thought back to my physics classroom… I was one of two female students in the class. Did I want to spend my life with male colleagues in an academic or laboratory setting? The answer was no. No, I did not.
The decision stemmed from my conception of the science world. I pictured physicists working in a windowless laboratory for long hours, barely seeing daylight or other human beings. I had also heard you had to write a lot of papers and fight for research funding. It didn’t sound like a good time. I wanted to meet people and be creative! Part of me also felt like I wasn’t smart enough to study physics after all. How had it been so easy and fun before? It was simpler to give up than to fight for my spot in that class. So, I quit. I studied marketing for the next three and a half years. I thought to myself, “marketing opens so many doors. I could work anywhere!” Ironically, I went on to work in technology, a very male-dominated field.
Over time, I have realized many things. I could have worked in a male-dominated field because I have done it. I’ve also met many awesome female scientists who have done it too. I still love learning about and discussing physics, but more as a hobby. After having experienced “work life” and discussing with many friends and acquaintances, it has become clear to me that a lot of people feel the same way I do about being an adult. No one feels like a full adult. We keep asking ourselves, “When will I finally feel like adults?” No matter how hard we try, we still feel like imposters trying to fit into this big bad business world. The thing is, work life and adult life have been falsely advertised. We were told. “It’s easy! Just pick a field of study, graduate, and get a job. Congratulations! Now you’re an adult.” Wrong. This way of thinking is narrow and mistaken. A career isn’t everything and many people don’t feel fulfilled by the work they were forced to choose when they were teenagers.
I’m here to let you know that the field of study you choose in high school doesn’t matter so much. We are pressured as kids to make a big life decision and to decide then and there what we will do for the rest of our lives. Life doesn’t work like that. Success isn’t making as much money as possible or climbing to the top of your chosen career field. You get to define your own success. You will grow and change your mind a million times over. There are many paths to becoming a great person, so just do what you think is right at the time. You’ll never stop learning about the world and yourself, so just keep moving forward. Do I regret my life decisions? Not one bit!