Written in the Stars

Growing up with microscopes in one hand and telescopes in the other, I knew from an early age that science was for me. The question was never if science, but what science? Gazing at the starry heavens and the latest picture postcards from NASA probes, I had a head filled with visions of possible astronomy careers. Tagging along with Dad to his research lab, seeing scintillation counters and whirling centrifuges fueled my desire to become a biologist. Regardless what I chose, bench-work science seemed my destiny.

A trip to Africa led me to choose wildlife biology for an undergraduate major, and I went on to get an M.Sc. degree in the same field. My postgraduate research on desert antelope endocrinology had me spending days capturing gazelles in the South African Kalahari and nights exploring the stars. Back on campus at McGill University in Montreal, I became a part-time curatorial assistant at McGill’s entomological museum, which had me delivering educational talks to school kids, cataloging specimens, and taking care of live cultures of such creepy-crawlies as giant walking sticks from Papua New Guinea and Madagascar’s hissing cockroaches. One summer I even got to be fly wrangler for a couple of movies filming in town.

You might ask, “What is a fly wrangler?” I’ll leave that to your imagination, except to say that it involved, in my case, thousands of buzzing flies and too much time with cows, pigs, and C-rated horror flicks.

Working long hours in the lab and at a computer, focused on a too-narrow project, took its toll on my passion for bench science. Fresh out of university with a degree in my pocket, I was hungry to tackle the world outside the academic bubble. I went out on my own and landed a contract at the Fresno Zoological Gardens in California to help design and develop an environmental multimedia lab for school kids. Although lunching with the elephants and witnessing the miracle of wildlife births were very fine perks, working at a zoo had its challenges … not the least of which was the fact that family, friends, and girlfriend were all back in Canada.

I packed up and headed back to wintry Montreal–I still ask myself why I didn’t wait until the snows had melted–with enough experience in the IT field to prepare me to surf the dot-com wave. I began a new life as a Web designer for Siemens, a multinational electronics and electrical engineering firm. After 4 years I found myself newly married, with a car, a house, and the like, earning more money than many tenured professors. I was successful, ambitious, career oriented, deeply unfulfilled, and utterly lost.

After a long and difficult soul search, I finally pursued what I had gradually come to realize was my true passion. I became a fulltime freelance science communicator. Three years later, I was writing for Canadian astronautics and space-science programs, penning an astronomy column for a large-circulation newspaper, contributing to popular science magazines, and doing a monthly science-news broadcast for CBC radio in Quebec. Then, Next Wave came calling, and now, as Canadian Editor, I hope to share some of my experience and excitement, doing the work I love while helping to guide the next wave of science graduates toward their true destinies.

Check out Andrew’s personal website

Science Policy’s Frontline

International Development Work – Challenges and Rewards