The Fig Tree blog was inspired by an epiphany last summer: I was in the wrong academic track. I needed to redirect my career to one where rigor of the philosophical or scientific genre was inherent in the work.

For a long time now, I’ve been enamored by NASA’s ambitious goals and NOVA’s intriguing space documentaries. The countdown and “liftoff” of the space shuttles were always a sight to behold. As a nontraditional student, this motivated me to study hard for a career in STEM. That passion to learn translated into success in college biology, mathematics and physics. I like the fact math could be used as a conduit to solving complex phenomena, that biology is truly beautiful and complex, and that physics challenges our perception of reality in astonishing ways (just think about the concept of the light year).

My ambitions back then were to eventually earn a Master’s degree so as to impart the beauty of math/physics in a teaching capacity (i.e. community college) or work in industry outright. There’s an adage in French that can be unforgiving: Le temps perdu ne se rattrape jamais. But, even with this latest snafu this year, there are things we can learn from time lost. 

The current academic track never fed my intellectual curiosity; that realization was quite liberating but like most changes it was stressful. What’s more, recently I read an interesting blog about an emerging “maker movement”, at its core a powerful tenet that learning by making is intrinsic to an individual’s intellectual and artistic maturation. The idea of ‘making’, apparently, has a long history culminating with Jean Piaget’s work: “To Understand is to Invent”. Jonathan (aka ActingDoctor), a 4th year medical student and aspiring pediatric neurosurgeon, shed light on this “Do It Yourself” mantra and shared a heartwarming story about Embrace, a cost-effective warming blanket that is “saving multiple lives where incubators are not available” in developing countries.

Said Seymour Papert (“the father of the maker movement”): the most powerful idea of all is the idea of powerful ideas.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but given extra time I would not have switched to healthcare and instead finish the remaining pre-engineering courses. Structural or aerospace engineering, in particular, tend to rely on a working economy. Or, I would have applied to medical school–a career in which the expectation is clearly defined. I also think I should have weighed a career in computer science. My buddy now works at Google after earning his PhD and taught for a year. I think it’s good to be inquisitive but it is best to become an expert in one thing (see The Fig Tree blog).

My experience is not uncommon. Many students stay the course in unhappy situations (with good reasons). Switching career is not without stress, it means time lost and wasted opportunities. It’s really not a time to philosophize about this or that. For example, I struggled to reconcile the selling of liquor and cigarettes to patients we seek to treat as corporate pharmacies have done. The system to open a private pharmacy is very difficult and the other avenues in this field requires more schooling that borders on medicine anyway.

I’m reminded when I volunteered as a supplemental teacher at a local adult education center. Those students were hungry for the next step, yet in a sense I can see myself in them now. I need fresh impetus to help me rekindle that mojo to strive and overcome; to parry and make a leap of faith.

I love math and science. Abstract thinking has always captivated me and I relish those opportunities when I could reason through a problem and show my work. Unlike biology-related field, in math or physics one gets to practice a concept just learned. Hence, why I think programming/software engineering can be quite fulfilling for me. For example, even if one doesn’t aspire to be a mathematician, the following I think shows the beauty of logical reasoning.

The following is what I call a pseudo math/logic problem. It is a very basic “fun divisibility” number theory problem; hardly any number crunching here, just a couple integer rules is assumed. In the spirit of good fun, they even threw a monkey wrench in the problem: A≠B. This pleasing aesthetics and the problem’s simplicity show why math can be extremely fun:

unsolved divisibility YouTube

Now, back to the basics with pen and notepad:

FUN DIVISIBILITY (Note: in the first test, only 2 and 6 fit the data)

Problem # 2:

I came across this problem just when my wife turned the TV channel to “Who wants to be a millionaire” (summer 2015).

A ball and bat cost $1.10, the bat cost $1 more. What is the cost of the ball? Let us use algebra for this one:

Answer     The cost of the ball is X. The cost of the bat on the other hand is x+1.

Suppose we knew the price of the ball, the total would be $1.10.

Let’s derive for X:

Using algebra:  x + (x+1) = $1.10

Combine like terms: 2x + 1 =$1.10         2x = 0.10 ¢    >>       x = 0.05 ¢ (price of ball)

The price of the bat is: $1.10 – 0.05 ¢  = $1.05 (check)

Try that on a televised game show (without pencil and paper) with a lot of money on the line!



Google image: leaping man