There is a scene in the film Zoolander which gets me every time – he is knelt by a roadside, catching his refection in a puddle asking, in Stiller’s own unique style, who am I? This blog was started in the twilight portion of 2015 as a way to record and share science – but more importantly that that a journey correcting mistakes from the past. For those who don’t know the premise of this blog, I don’t mean a misspent youth day drinking at bus stops and running around with the kind of girls your parents hope you don’t, I mean a pathway through life that involved not perusing my true interests. This whole journey is about not being willing to accept what I have, no matter how much short term satisfaction can be gained, in order to invest in something more permanent in this terribly ephemeral world I find myself imprisoned upon.
As one tends to find with life, things have moved on since I have started this blog. I have met some great people, who have given me some great advice, I have studied often, read frequently and planned relentlessly in the hope that when the call to battle arrives, I am ready. Most who follow my blog are interested in science, some who follow my blog are soon to be starting undergraduates, some like me are trying to get back into science at an older age and one or two of you are even Chartered Accountants – you have my untapped empathy. Today I thought I would share my progress, in the hope that it might help others in similar situations – and for those who feel like they won’t every get to where they want to be, provide a little bit of hope. I will split the remainder into the sections that have been of particular use to me.
I am blessed, truly, because I live in London which means I have a huge amount of opportunity on my doorstep. If you don’t live in or near a large city – it isn’t the end of the world, but engaging in public events might be a little bit more difficult just by virtue of the logistics but none the less they are wonderful. There is a huge variety when it comes to public events and I have found them to be a fantastic way of engaging with likeminded people. Moreover they are a really good way to speak with likeminded people, and project forwards five or ten years and decide if you think you are on the right path. I have found inspiration on different levels from the following events:
The Institute of Physics: The institute puts on a variety of lecture series, mainly held at their headquarters on Portland Place. The lectures are informative – although clearly in a one hour lecture more for interest than in depth study.
Pint of Science: This three day science festival found me mildly drunk in pubs around London three evenings in the world discussing the application on manifolds in string theory amongst other completely fascinating topics. This was the best way I have found so far to make connections, engage and win quiz prizes! Thoroughly worthwhile.
The Royal Institution: Science lives here as they say. The events do cost money but they often feature slightly higher brow speakers including nobel laureates. I have not attended enough of these events yet but it is most certainly in the plan.
Other events I have not been able to attend yet but are certainly on the horizon are;
- University outreach lectures;
- Gresham college public lecture series;
- New Scientist’s instant expert;
- Science museum lates; and
- The Royal Society lecture series.
I have been on a distance learning degree where I have been working (fairly) hard towards a formal qualification in Mathematics and Physics (a BSc) and my experience with the Open University is this – the world isn’t as digital as we like to think it is. Learning is still very much a tangible process and there are certain things that the OU just don’t seem to appreciate. I think I boiled the issue down to commerciality – with a traditional university there is a physical limit on the students that the university can take it, which means there is little use driving to appeal to more and more students; the only thing you can do is appeal for better quality students which means creating a better quality degree. If you are an online provider though you can greedily gobble up more and more. I have felt that this has meant, at times, when you are looking to do something that is a little bit outside the norm the advice simply isn’t there. When I ask people at the OU about the path I want to take they have no answers for me.
That said – distance learning will be your hero if you need to take a degree, as I do, and cannot afford to self fund a second one – which lets face it with £9k tuition plus living really who can? Therefore I see it as a means to an end. Avid readers of my blog may have noticed my outlook has soured on it a little over time – however it is still, we hope, projecting me forwards.
I am a Chartered Accountant breaking into the world of science by studying a degree via distance learning. How many like minded people do you think there are in my position? I actually think I might be the only one of my particular breed in terms of my unique situation. There is a real important piece of motivation that is lacking there – trust me it really helps to have a couple of people around you that “get it”. Well seek them out! Whoever said “opposites attract” probably also coined “it is what it is” – it is just moronic. Watch me have a conversation with a modern artist and tell me that opposites attract. Opposite charges attract. Opposite magnetic poles attract. Opposite people do not. I have been lucky enough to be able to surround myself with some very inspiring likeminded people – and I think this has been the greatest change and source of inspiration to me since I started this whole thing. If you are trying to change your life, you really should speak to people who have already done it.
Not taking on too much
The above is quite important and this is the final lesson I have learnt. I got into a blind panic and got into this mad rush that I had to sign up to everything and work at a million miles an hour to achieve my goals. I need to work hard and I need to do all I can but I need to be frank and honest about the amount of work I have time for. If any of you are trying to do anything similar to what I am then it is really important to recognise your core pillar. Mine is my degree – this is the thing that is central to the dream and must be protected above all else. If anything else designed to help infringes on this then you really are messing up – and using all your free time. I’ve said it many times before – but there really is no better practice than planning. When you learn to plan everything honestly and properly you will be repaid handsomely.
So as we get on towards a year since I formally began the process how confident am I that the masters place I have dreamed of is on the horizon? 75%. I am more confident than when I started and I have made a lot of progress – however I am still looking to get smarter, work smarter and improve more. I would love to hear from anyone trying to break into science or any other areas around how you have achieved success – and any critique of my plan would be received warmly!