A Letter from 2050

Dear Munira

 

2019 was the year the world finally woke up and did something to prevent the catastrophic destruction of our climate. It’s also the year you decided to fully commit to an academic career by starting your Master’s degree in Astrophysics to embark on a life of science. Because this journey is one that’s inherently about discovery, you didn’t know where the future would take you. It’s also the year you read a book that helped you realise that being a scientist would forever make your life different from everyone else in your community and that that’s what makes it so exciting and perfect.

 

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.” – Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

 

You have become such a role model for Muslim girls interested in science around the world. The foundations you put down in 2019 led you to develop your skills as a writer, along with your science, and your latest book launch attracted so much attention. You also hang out with Kim and the other SAYAS bloggers every now and then at scicomm events! It’s amazing being part of the incredible community of South African scientists.   

 

In the year 2019, you barely survived the crushing disappointment of rejection after being shortlisted for a summer school.  It’s also the year you learnt to pick yourself up, learnt that it’s okay to fail and get rejected and – despite all of that – keep your hopes up and keep applying. This first year of your Masters, after you learnt the difficult lesson that your value as a scientist isn’t determined by external factors and that you will always be good enough if you put in the effort and work hard, finally got that life-changing acceptance letter to attend a summer school abroad in your field. 

 

The most notable quality of a scientist is not how brilliant their discoveries are or how prestigious their awards are – it’s how kind and supportive they are towards other scientists. In the future, you will meet several high-profile scientists who hurt people and push people away from science. I hope that now, in 2019, you appreciate your supervisors who are both brilliant scientists and immensely kind and supportive people. Under their guidance, you will continue to grow as a successful and confident astronomer.

 

I’m sure you must be wondering what SKA is like, now in 2050? Well, I’m happy to report that Phase II is built and running smoothly. After the success of MeerKAT, SKA got so much more funding and input from the international community that it exceeds everyone’s expectations. There are even rumours of its latest discovery winning the Jocelyn Bell Prize – which doesn’t exist yet in 2019 but is now far more coveted than the outdated Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, you have to wait until 2050 to find out what that discovery is. It may have something to do with dark energy…  

 

I know that the future is scary, but you will do so well. Keep working hard, keep asking questions and keep writing, and keep applying! 

 

PS: We also don’t have to worry about load-shedding anymore, ever since the switchover to renewable energy and nuclear fusion reactors. 

Perspective from the future ; A letter to my young self

Dear Sesetu…

The year is 2050 and you have come a long way since you started your academic journey. In 2018 you enrolled for your PhD degree this was the time you started to think critically about the kind of academic you wanted to become.  Since then you have become more confident about the academic you are and the field of academia that you want to specialize in. So much has changed since your days of dreaming about funding being more available to students, healthy non-patriarchal academic working environments and I am glad you are happy with the strides that have been taken to make those dreams more of a reality.  

I am amazed at how your perspective about becoming an academic has changed from just obtaining a degree.  Obtaining your PhD is no longer just about getting the title and securing a well-paying job but it has opened an opportunity for you to learn from various disciplines, individuals and communities to help you become a seasoned researcher with a heart for realistic impact. You have also become intentional about respectful and inclusive (to both women and men; disable and able people) academic environments you would like to contribute towards building for future academic generations. I am proud of the work you have invested in yourself in becoming confident about the kind of content you want to produce and the effect it has in the academic space.

There were times when the academic journey seemed impossible to enjoy because of various pressures in life however, I am glad you perused relentlessly. I remember in 2019 when you took a summer job as a sales specialist at a retail store to cover your living expenses. You hated this job but you needed the money plus you needed a little bit of a break from the academic world. Working in retail was a challenge for you as you have never done it before and were very nervous about your performance. Little did you know that you will learn from this job to be more inquisitive, learn how to approach people (by reading body language) and listen to their concerns and finally you learn to respect the different working environments that people are in.

Looking at how far you have come, if I were to give you advice while you starting your academic journey I would advise you on two things that I know will be challenging for you to wrap your head around.

Firstly, you will need to be open to accepting change particularly in the work environment. Plans and intentions change do not always take those changes as failure sometimes it is just you taking a different approach to the same end goal.

Secondly, live your life . Do not just focus on you “books” because the truth is there will come a time when you will be done with the books  and you will not get back the time to build other aspects of your life. So build friendships, take long walks and watch movies. Be kind to yourself … you deserve it.

Best regards, 
Sesetu of 2050