As a child, I'd just look up and see the pretty stars but nothing more than that. I didn't have a telescope or anything. I stumbled upon astronomy by accident. I visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and saw the pictures from Voyager! That was the first time I realized, "Wow, there are people who go and study these things and do this for a living."She's currently working in instrumentation rather than astronomical observation because she doesn't want to deal with the academic rounds. That bad, huh? Her advice to children:
It was my collaborator, Dave Jewitt, who pointed out to me, "You know people like to use the word 'brilliant'. People like to hero worship and say 'oh, this astronomer is brilliant.'" Dave said, "Nah, he's just interested in what he does. That's all there is." If you're interested in something, you care about it, think a lot about it, and then you're going to have good ideas. If you have some perseverance and you stick to your ideas, you can make something of them. If you're interested in something you're already halfway there.Luu has also taught as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Nepal and Tibet. By chance.
I didn't have any money but I met this lady who just landed a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and she was going up to Nepal to do some work and she said, "Oh if you find yourself in the neighborhood, stop by. You could stay with me." I said, "OK!" and I tried to find the money to go. I thought, "Well, it doesn't cost much to live there -- just come up with the airfare and then off you go." Once I got there I looked for volunteer jobs and found Save the Children. ... I was out in the village teaching for about a month and then the opportunity came up that Tibet opened the border between Nepal and Tibet. You just have to go because it doesn't happen very often. The Peace Corps volunteers are great people. You hear about them and they say, "Oh, we're going to..." So you say, "Well, can I come along?" And they say, "Sure!" I wasn't actually in the Peace Corps. I just joined them when they went. I ended up spending the whole summer in Nepal and Tibet.I've done that, said "Okay, let's go!" But to the beach or something, not to Tibet! I think the hard work and finding your interests thing she mentions above is one element of a successful life. But another is a combination of spontaneity and good judgment. For a lot of people, spontaneity is just poor impulse control. But for Luu it seems to be the ability to recognize and say yes to great opportunities on the spur of the moment. Lord knows I've had some amazing opps that I've turned down because I didn't recognize them at the time ... or because I simply didn't have the presence of mind, or the courage, to say yes. I wonder if this is an immutable characteristic, or if it can be learned. I hope it can be learned, and I'm going to take inspiration from Luu and try to learn it.
The previous issue of Hyphen is available in its entirety for your perusing pleasure. Almost as good as having it right in your hands!