The Globe and Mail published an essay called “Missing the Mark” by Chris Smith on its Facts and Arguments page today. Chris describes the experience of finding a box of unimpressive report cards in his parents’ basement. They lead him to wonder how he ever made it through university and graduate school with a BSc and a MSc in astronomy and astrophysics. He analyses the data and searches his memory to gather evidence to explain how such a shaky start could end so well:
“Around age 13, I became hooked on the night sky. My parents bought me my first telescope, a wobbly department store item boasting ridiculous and unusable high magnifications. I didn’t care. I could see the Orion Nebula and lots of other neat stuff.
I began building my own telescopes, grinding and polishing mirrors, always moving on to a bigger one. Maybe this focused and motivated me? Or maybe it was my dad, the engineer, who always discussed with me how mechanical things worked? Perhaps it was the influence of my mom, who talked about politics, world affairs and geography with me?
Maybe report cards aren’t as blunt these days. I know those early warnings of struggling brought on many hours of remedial spelling and arithmetic with my parents. Maybe there was no silver bullet or magic trigger, but just a combination that finally got me interested in what teachers were trying so hard to teach me.”
Has something comparable to the night sky hooked you? At what age did you first feel a pull in its direction? What was the combination of people and experiences that got you interested in a particular course of study or field?