I have always loved science, even as I was thoroughly loving art at the same time. You could say I have an ambidextrous mind, and I could love and juggle both science and art at the same time.
In high school, I was in the Chemistry Society, as well as being the president of the Art Club, and also participating in public speaking and drama in the Literary Drama and Debate Society. On saturdays, I could be making perfume or soap in the lab, or practicing my script for an upcoming drama, or sculpting clay in another room. I loved all of those activities.
So as I finished high school, I went to junior college and the logical choice at that time (a wish of most Asian parents), was to enter the science stream. I took a combination of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, so that I could hope to prepare for an eventual career in medicine, or at the very least, a possible career in pharmacy or the pure sciences. At least, that was in consensus with what my parents would demand from me at that time.
However, I started to indulge in a research project that started out simply as a science fair project, to find a new antioxidant for food lipids (oils such as butter, palm oil and margarine) and to determine its suitability in terms of performance and toxicity. I became very engrossed with the research, and even managed to work briefly with a biochemistry professor from the faculty of medicine in the local university. The professor commented that even at my young age, the project was pegged at the masters degree level, and if I were studying under him, I may have qualified for a masters degree at some point. That was very encouraging, and I took it all the way, at the expense of my actual curriculum. So, after two years, I failed to qualify for the local universities, and entered the army to serve my national service.
Did I harbor hopes for a scientific career even if pursuing medicine was no longer an option? Yes!
After national service, I enrolled in the evening program at a local polytechnic, studying chemical engineering while I worked in the day at a material testing lab in a government institution. The job was paying just about US$300 a month, meager and yet understandable, as the country and the region was going through the worst economic recession in the 1980s.
I was talking to some long-time employees of the lab, and asked if I could progress to become a chemist after I graduate from the polytechnic. Their answers were unanimous – no way. To be a chemist in those days, you had to have a relevant university degree.
Slightly disappointed, I began to explore more career options. I eventually landed the transformative job of my path, by becoming one of the pioneering Macintosh evangelists, promoting and supporting desktop publishing (DTP) solutions to corporations and institutions. And because of my stint there, I was headhunted to join a large manufacturing plant and serve as a training officer for the head of industrial training, and developed many computer-based training (CBT) programs that ran on networked Macintoshes. My computer programming DNA was re-ignited (I wrote BASIC programs in my youth on the ZX Spectrum and CASIO handheld computers).
So, while I occasionally still harbor dreams of becoming a chemist, I know that the turning away from chemistry, and embracing computers, was the best change I ever made. After all, everything today and tomorrow will run on computers and software, and those who can harness these systems will leap ahead. A #RoadNotTaken is not always a bad thing.
PS – I am rekindling my artistic side, by returning to my Chinese painting and photography (hybrid, with a healthy mix of still photography and filmmaking). All is not lost.
Seamus Phan has 32 years of professional experience. He is a professional speaker, marketing and branding consultant, book author, technologist, scientist, artist, and aviation enthusiast. Some articles are reproduced at McGallen & Bolden, where he is CTO and Head of Content. Connect on LinkedIn. ©1984-2019. All rights reserved.