For Boris: What Would I Do?

>> Monday, March 8, 2010

Boris asked: If you had to choose your line of work again, would it still be the same, i.e. awesome rocketry with NASA (personal bias showing through)? What would be your second choice?

Good question, Boris. It should be one I can answer in a few short sentences. But I can't.

It's an excellent question because I'm not sure how much I "chose" this one. See, I am a rare beastie, an accidental engineer. I'd never had the slightest interest or inclination to do anything math related. Oh, science and math were fun and I enjoyed it, but only about as much as I enjoyed history and literature. I always intended to be a writer/novelist. The only thing in question was what would I do for a day job while I waited to get my book(s) written and sold. Stephanie likes eating.

I could do math, of course, in fact, it was so easy for me it was boring to me, which is likely one reason I never intended to pursue it. I think I'd always assumed I'd do foreign languages (which I enjoy great deal) or journalism or genetic engineering. I know, weird choices. Except, journalism, in high school, bored me silly. Writing the "truth" didn't hold any interest for me compared to fiction and I wasn't sure how to make money with foreign languages short of teaching. And genetic engineering wasn't offered at any of my immediate college choices.

But I wasn't set or picky. After all, I was going to write. So, since I was bright (and had excellent SAT and ACT scores - types of proficiency exams), I started applying for scholarships, a lot of them, anything. I figured wherever I had scholarships, I'd pursue.

Which is how I ended up with Engineering Physics - because I could get a scholarship from the Engineering department and a scholarship from the physics department. And, once I started in what I soon discovered was the "hardest" major on campus, I was too stubborn to get out. I wasn't going to let it beat me. I found my job with the same sort of muddling. I wanted to live somewhere "warm", didn't particularly want to do defense or quality assurance and definitely not petroleum. That left NASA.

Why did I tell you all that? Because, knowing what I know now and having an opportunity to get any major I wanted and work wherever I wanted, I think I'd do the same thing. I was exposed to all the science and every major type of engineering, and I like what I ended up with better than anything else. It's more real and practical that straight physics, more predictable than biology, smells better than chemistry, yet it's also far more versatile than any straight engineering field. But it also incorporates bits and pieces of all of it.

I used to think I would have been better off working for NASA directly (which I missed because I'd already accepted an offer with a contractor). Now, I'm glad that my background is more diverse (bioengineering, human factors, environmental science, robotics, calibration, safety, EVA, etc. etc.). And I love where I work now, more freedom, more variety.

So, honestly, if I could do it all over again, I probably wouldn't have changed anything. I wonder sometimes about genetic engineering. But I'm not unhappy, even with some of the frustrations I've run into along the way. I believe in what I do and believe I've made a difference.

So, call that I'd choose the same, with genetic engineering as a second choice.

However, I do have some regrets. I wish I'd pursued some singing training. I wish I'd pursued languages more so I was actually fluent. And I wish I'd pursued the writing itself more assiduously.

But, all in all, I'm good.


  • Jeff King

    Interesting thx...

  • Phyl

    I really enjoyed all this. What a fascinating path you've taken! I really enjoy knowing people who find math and physics fun. (I do too, but I would have had to work much harder at it than it sounds like you did, so I took an easier way in the end.)

    I still want to see you become a published novelist, though. :-)

  • Boris Legradic

    Thanks Stephanie for the very interesting answer! I never consider that someone might have ended up in his career by accident, since for me it was pretty straight forward: See physics, like physics, do physics, starting at about 13 years of age (and before that it was chemistry).

    I'm looking forward to ordering your first novel as well, good luck with your writing!

  • Anonymous

    I'm still impressed by your 30 composite on the ACT, which qualifies you for MENSA... :) Did you ever publish your "Tanschel and Traig" epic poem?

  • Stephanie Barr

    Brian, Brian...if only I weren't so bad at names. Clearly, you know me from somewhere. Technically, it was a 31, and I good thing I had it since I was one of 9 valedictorians in a class of 110. The Mensa thing I actually tested, but that's another story.

    To answer your question about the poem, I did not, though I there's a strong streak of that poem in my most polished novel, so it may not be entirely gone forever.

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