So you wanna be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star? Well no, I want a Science Career

Chemistry would be my choice if I could start off a science career
Chemistry. Something we can’t live without. // Photo by: Sarah Pflug

A couple of days ago I was listening to Patti Smith’s famous cover of So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star by the Byrds and it got me thinking about their recipe for success:

So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time and learn how to play

It reminded me of myself as a teenager, when I really wanted to start off a career in music… Until I realised how bad I was at playing guitar and gave up.
When I finished school I would’ve loved to study architecture, simply because I liked the idea of creating something based on precise premises. But I was, and still am, part of the universe of mathematically ignorant people (but I’m working to fix this).

As I was growing up, however, I disregarded something very important: I am a natural-born nerd.
Now I’ve finally acknowledged that:
1. I am unable to keep a conversation about things I find irrelevant to my interests.
-> I’m always talking about Star Trek. The people who know me will confirm that. Actually the simple fact I love Star Trek says it all.
2. I have few friends. Very few.
-> Let’s just say I have two. I’ve got 18 friends on Facebook and most of them are relatives.
3. I find Science and Technology particularly fascinating.

To be proudly called a nerd, however, there’s just one thing I lack – that is scientific knowledge.
I really blame myself for not paying attention to my nerdy inclination before.
I should’ve understood that while I was young enough to turn my passion into a profession.
But alas, in my teenage years I was too busy playing The Sims instead of spending some time contemplating the night sky (or watching Star Trek, which is just as much of an education).

Now I dream of seeing the Earth from Space and studying chemistry.
Or astrophysics.
Chemistry would be my first choice though, because the idea of playing with beakers, flasks and weird liquids is very appealing. Even more than that, in my opinion some experiments are so spectacular they’re like a work of art. Think about the chemical garden or the iodine clock, one of my favourite reactions. Not to mention those ending up in a BANG!
Actually, I liked chemistry pretty much when I was in school.
A couple of years ago I studied it as an autodidact and it was simply amazing – I rediscovered things I’d forgotten and learned new ones I’d never even imagined existed.

Chemistry, however, requires not only your mental skills, but also your practical dedication. Contrary to other subjects, you really cannot study chemistry without playing a bit in the lab.
Too bad I’m a thirty-year-old full-time worker, which means it would be practically impossible for me to attend compulsory courses and laboratories during the week.
So I have to say goodbye to my dream of becoming the new Marie Curie.

Or maybe not?

I’ve found an interesting article on Nature titled ‘Career change: It’s never too late to switch’.
So it seems like somebody made it! Stuart Firestein decided to study animal behaviour at university after spending 20 years in theatre. He graduated and took his PhD in his late 30s, then he even became a Biology Professor at Columbia Univesity.
The article mentions other similar cases, but this is really astonshing. Is it possible to continue your education if you have a job or is he just an exception to the rule?

I think the truth lies in the subtitle:

With willpower and suitable financial means, you can start a science career at any age.

There you go, Nature, you said it: “suitable financial means”. ‘Cause willpower is definitely there.

In a way it saddens me a little to think I’ll only be able to study chemistry in another life.
On the other hand, somehow it comforts me to know that I would be absolutely committed to studying new, difficult subjects (for me at least), should I begin now.
Besides, I wouldn’t be anxious to finish my studies as quickly as possible – that was the feeling during my undergraduate studies (which went well anyway), because I was aware they had to lead to a job.
A second academic degree in my case would be driven by pure thirst for knowledge. Science for science’s sake.

As humans, we discover new passions thanks to our natural curiosity. It would be wonderful if we could adapt our lives to what inspires us most.
After all, curiosity drives progress. It’s been true since the dawn of man.

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