In my ENG 434 Cook The Books class, we’ve discussed the statement “you are what you eat” but I wonder, can the same be said for what you study? Hopefully, whatever field you’ve decided to specialize, major or minor in, will make an impact on the way you think but I do not necessarily think that your degree will define who you are and limit what you can be when you graduate.
On Monday, I went with Chad to see NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel speak at Hart House. Neither Chad, nor I, are in any way related to the U of T Space Program. Wait a second. U of T has a Space Program? Yes, that was our reaction, too. Nonetheless, everyone was welcome to attend and the audience was surprisingly diverse, ranging from a crying baby to the senior citizen with a hearing aid who sat in front of me to a person who felt compelled to ask,”Do you think humans can have a longer life expectancy in outer space because there is less pollution?” (Feustel responded that the stench of the recycled oxygen in the space shuttle is so gross that workers like to avoid going inside of the spacecraft after landing, therefore, is living in smelly, cramped quarters actually worth a longer life expectancy?). Uh, yeah. So we didn’t feel like aliens invading a space program lecture or anything.
Given the end of NASA’s space shuttle program over the summer, it was pretty amazing to hear someone who has visited the International Space Station not only once, but twice, speak about his unique experiences. While Feustel talked about his 8 minutes 20 seconds journey into orbit (the Space Shuttle Endeavour goes from zero to 17,500 miles an hour), he also mentioned his journey from university to NASA. Feustel revealed that he actually studied Geophysics and worked in underground mining throughout Canada and the United States. It’s safe to say that the jump from underground mining to outer space is a pretty far leap but Feustel proved he didn’t let his background in Geological Sciences define and limit what he can and can’t accomplish.
In fact, Feustel seemed to stress that being a well-rounded individual was the key to his success. Obviously, a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences added to his repertoire of academic accomplishments but in order to gain a competitive edge for NASA’s recruiting process, he built up his qualifications and became certified in scuba diving and learned how to fly a plane, personally testing and pushing himself to see if he felt comfortable in different environments.
While Feustel talked about his own unique carved path, I couldn’t help but think about when I tell people that I am a double major in Aboriginal Studies and English. There have been times when I have watched people process the subjects I have chosen and it becomes quite obvious that they do not recognize Aboriginal Studies and English as “safe” fields of study.
“And what do you plan to do with that?” “Where will those subjects lead you?” They quiz me. I’ve tried to stop giving a long-winded defense about why I have chosen this specific journey (quite simply, I derive pleasure from gaining knowledge and exploring ideas in these areas, it is my passion) and have also refrained from telling them that I will be okay. The thing is, I really do think I’ll be okay.
While I admit, very few people on planet earth will ever get beyond earth, Feustel shows that a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences didn’t restrict his dreams of becoming an astronaut. What I’m trying to say is that if you work hard enough, shoot high enough and dream big enough, it’s you, not necessarily your degree, that will get you places, perhaps far, far away. So be like Feustel. Enjoy life on earth but don’t forget to shoot for those stars.