By Shalini Banerjee:
I heard about him for the first time when I was in school. I was in class VI, when my teacher took his name for the first time. And within seconds of that, I looked up to see him. He was standing right there, looking at everyone, waiting for a response, I guess. My heart melted a bit and for the first time I blushed. He introduced himself with a grin that almost melted my heart. His name was Chemistry.
Well, that is how my love story with science had started. I imagine quite a few people would have had the same reaction as mine, people who have a passion for science. But as it turns out, these kinds of love stories do not have a happy ending, where we walk hand in hand into the sunset. Rather this kind of love story, kind of ends like this:
After more than seven years together, there was hardly anything left to be discovered. We took up projects together, attended seminars together, researched late into the night burning midnight oil. We went on frequent trips together and even went for couples counselling! The situation did not improve, but neither did it worsen. And then it hit me. It was not that I did not love Chemistry anymore, but my love and respect had actually grown for him after spending 9 years together. But I somehow could not imagine a future with him, or at least a future that would be rosy and romantic. In my mind’s eye, I could see us turn to an embittered couple, who would stay together, more out of habit than out of love.
When I first decided not to pursue science as a career, it not only hit me hard, but also my family. Growing up, I was one of those irritating kids who always knew what they wanted to do in life. I was the one who had everything sorted out and the kid to whom other parents would point and say, “Why can’t you be more mature like her?” Actually, I had always known I would end up studying science. I freaking loved that subject! And unlike my peers, I liked mathematics. I enjoyed being able to solve a problem and revel in the afterglow of finding the solution. But my story is not uncommon.
I know many people with a storyline similar to mine. I was going through a few articles on this subject and what struck me most was people arguing that science is not demonstrated to us. According to the Indian curriculum, science is taught to us as grammar is taught in English. And what is left out is akin to leaving Shakespeare out of English literature. If we cannot imagine living without knowing Shakespeare, how have we been putting up with the former’s lack of demonstration?
Earlier, our ex-Prime Minister had argued that India has a declining interest in pursuing scientific fields over the past few decades, so much so that we are being overtaken by China in terms of pursuing research-oriented fields. A lot of factors have played a role in this statistical data. The need to settle down early in life, limited availability of academically excellent schools teaching science, etc. could be possible causes.
There is an urban legend of Schrödinger’s cat. It was a stroke of genius how Schrödinger used an imaginary cat to demonstrate a scientific principle. In ‘The Big Bang Theory’ there was a character called Professor Photon. This guy had a television show all to himself, teaching kids and adults alike the joy and magic of science in everyday life. Can we change our own to approach to science in that way? Why should we wait till we are 20-something to learn about the brilliance of Heisenberg, Neils Bohr, Archimedes, Ernst Rutherford!
I have heard that the approach to our education system is changing. It is becoming more scientific and interactive. As I am not part of the generation that has a kid in school, I am prone to believe what I hear. But as a lover of science (yes, still), I am curious about the domino effect. It is said even the current POTUS (President of the United States, duh) is encouraging students to focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) as even he believes that the future lies in the grasp of STEM.
Before we delve deeper into the field of researchers, who have given up a normal life in the pursuit of the unknown and the unattainable, let’s go back to the roots. The decreasing interest, is that a sign of undue pressure? Is it because we have begun to quantify the joy in reading up on a subject that it is driving kids up against the wall? Those days are definitely gone where we would study history or English, just for the heck of it. Now we study for marks and to beat the neighbourhood topper. In the pursuit of quantification, we seem to have forgotten the joy of gaining knowledge.
A career in STEM may not come with immense perks of a seven-figure salary or a bungalow in the suburbs. Okay, whom am I kidding, it may come with these perks! But isn’t it more important to be satisfied with what we are doing rather than just doing something for the heck of it. Science used to bring me a lot of peace of mind, well, until we drifted apart. And all of this makes me wonder: was this the reason why we didn’t survive?
My love for science has always dominated my conversations (do not call me a nerd!). Conversations on questions like, “If we boil water, it evaporates, then why doesn’t milk evaporate when boiled?” would leave my family pealing with laughter. I was the one who would answer the question with a poker face and a deadpan voice. And it always felt good when people would be amazed by my answer. Again, the joy of knowledge comes to the rescue. Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is, STEM or Science is a work of beauty. And neglect over the years may have roughened its edges. But if we just become responsible, teach our kids the value behind the knowledge, maybe it will start shining again. Instead of being discarded like a bric-à-brac, science can prove to be the solitaire of your life.
Featured image for representation only. Credit: Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times.