2020: The year of asking the “right” questions

We blinked and it is 2020….

The year that when I was a kid I was SURE we will commute with spaceships, eat pills instead of food and our houses will look like the Jetsons‘.

Instead, the newspapers present us with the possibility of a next world war, while the climate has turned back to us fighting to survive from the human race’s misuse – and well in South Africa we do not know if we will have electricity the next day (who am I kidding? …the next hour).

How did we end up here?

Last year, I spent some time with a wonderful economist and special mentor (he might have not even realised how he influenced my thinking) and the main lesson I took from our interactions is: in order to find solutions, we need to be sure we are asking the “right” questions.

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Right, not for our publication record or our PhD, not because we have access to the data, not because the politicians want to have the specific answers…

Right for the society, for a sustainable future, for an impact, and for our own growth and development of thought process and mindset.

Right to take us out of our predicaments as a human race into a better future.

2020, here we go then, the year of asking the right questions (and exploring the answers, of course!).

Looking forward to working with an inspiring team of four individuals that I am sure, will challenge our minds and make us think deeper and wider at the same time. Check our 2020 bloggers here. In January, they will further introduce themselves in their first blogs.

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.