Skeletons and Careers in the ‘Cupboard’!

Most of us have some inkling of what we wish to do when we grow up. Careers it is called today. I grew up without an inkling or so I thought. Nobody told me that I need to be anything except a human being. Nobody told me what career to pursue or even ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up!! Everybody asked, I can even say pushed, my brother into saying he would be a doctor. He pursued that with singlemindedness and got there with distinction!! Why? My grandfather was a doctor! And I was a girl! Patriarchy you can say? Huge doses of it!

All the same I turned out OK with a fair amount of skill in writing in English and dealing with numbers. If you look back carefully at your childhood and early youth, you will discover some skeletons in the cupboard that can explain the path your life took. When I look back now, it appears knowingly or unknowingly my father pushed me towards this career option. The skeleton in the cupboard in my case was literally the large stock of novels in the cupboard, mainly by British authors that my father had accumulated during his travels. From the age of 13 or 14 years I started to read Daphne du Maurier, Marie Corelli, Somerset Maugham, P.G. Woodhouse, Charlotte Brontë, O’ Henry (American) and many more. I’m sure I did not understand much of it at first, but doggedly pursued each novel till the end. Sooner or later it started to make sense. I was assisted ably by the Oxford Dictionary. I owned and used one all through my school and college days, way before Google! We have a huge collection of Dictionaries till date!

Dictionaries galore: Were donated to a library
Dictionaries that we hoarders retained!

My father instilled in me the skill of the Three R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic. Even before I started to read novels, he would assign us readings during the summer vacation as he left for work. We were supposed to write a ‘precis’, brief note summarizing the essay, by the evening each day! I did it very industriously, not sure my brother did! My father was a Chartered Accountant. ‘Kannakapillai’ my grandmother called him, kept accounts of everything including his life! Early in his career before laptops and even calculators were common he would bring home what looked to me like a string of numbers. As I hung around he would assign me a long string of numbers and ask me to add. I was barely 8 or 9 years old and I would sit down and add!! Crazy for a little girl who should have been playing with dolls? I never did, probably did not have any dolls either! To cut a long story short, I finally chose to be an Economist dabbling in writing and crunching numbers (data)!

Today podcasts are popular and a friend introduced me to ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’. Out of curiosity I searched the site one day and came across an interview with Debbie Millman on ‘How to Design a Life’. Google tells me that she is an American, writer, educator, curator and designer.

Debbie Millman’s skeleton in the cupboard as described by her in the podcast: At the age of eight she drew a painting that almost predicted her future. A painting of Manhattan, with the street where she labeled a taxi, cleaners and a delivery truck with a logo on it. The skeleton was the painting, as she now lives in Manhattan and her life revolves around taxis, cleaners and delivery trucks. And the logo, painted at the age of eight, finally turned out to be her current logo! Serendipity or just a skeleton in the cupboard?

My daughter is a Cell Biologist. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of Chicago, Chicago and is doing post-doctoral research in cell biology in London. Recently when my husband was clearing his desktop of old files he came across a few files of our daughter’s Eleventh Grade school Science project. It was literally like finding skeletons in the cupboard! Skeletons in her career cupboard?

Her school science project was about the human skeleton! We were thrilled, as we thought we had discovered the genesis of her career in biology. However, our daughter had a good joke on our ‘discovery’. She said “The only link between this project and my subsequent career is ‘skeleton’. I specialize now in the cytoskeleton – skeletal fibers of the cell ” Ha Ha!

Hee Hee

Here is an extract from the project report we found. Those were the days when there was no google to ‘google’ and no laptops in India. So she must have got this information from books in the school library or from the Science books we piled on her!

“The Human Skeleton

The human skeleton (dried up in Greek) is the basic framework about which the soft tissues of our body are moulded. It gives a clear indication as to what the human form in its entirety is. The skeleton makes up about 18% of the total weight of the body.

Functions of the skeleton: 1. Support: The rigid skeletal support raises the body from the ground and suspends some of the vital organs from the ground and maintains the shape of body despite vigorous muscular activity. It helps us bear load and carry weight many times our own. 2. Protection: The skeleton protects delicate important organs of the body. For example: the skull encloses the brain, the rib cage protects the lung and heart and the spinal cord is enclosed within the backbone. 3. Movement: Many bones of the skeleton act as levers. When muscles pull on these levers they produce movements….”

She spent a few days in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s Clinic to understand injuries to the bone. She watched and observed the orthopedic surgeon interact and treat his patients. The doctor also showed her many X-ray photos and his diagnoses of the injuries. From this experience she wrote brief case studies of the fracture cases that she came across at the clinic. Here is an extract from her notes on ‘Bone Injuries’ as part of her science project.

“Bone Injuries

As rugged as our bodies are, they are often susceptible to painful and disabling injuries such as strains, sprains, dislocations and fractures. When sudden pressure pulls a bone out of its socket at the joint, the injury is called a dislocation. When a bone actually breaks, it is called a fracture and these may vary in seriousness. The older a person is, the longer it takes for a bone to heal; a child may recover within a few weeks and an elderly person may take several months. At all ages, some bones will heal faster than others. An arm may heal in a month, but a leg may take up to six months.

A fracture is the most common bone lesion and is defined as a break in the continuity of a bone or a part of its mineralized structure caused by a traumatic physical force. A fracture may be the result of an excessive impact, rotation, bending, or other mechanical force acting on previously normal bone or may be the consequence of an unnoticed or trivial injury of previously diseased bone (pathologic or spontaneous fracture). A fracture is described as complete or incomplete, simple (closed) or compound (open) if contiguous to an open external or internal wound, and comminuted if the bone is grossly splintered. A stress fracture is one that is caused by the cumulative effect of repeated episodes of physical stress on previously normal bone….”

Her aunt, who is a doctor, visited us around the time she finished this science project report and insisted that our daughter apply to the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), Delhi. It was the only medical entrance exam she wrote. Her observation was “I don’t know about interest in biology, but the experience at the doctor’s clinic certainly confirmed my lack of interest in medicine. I found it horrendous to be in a ward with sick people, especially with severe injuries and broken bones.”

So much for a career in medicine! She is happy now in the company of microscopic cells, imaging and making them dance to her tune!! Watch this video!

Our daughter’s little cells dance to her tune!

Enjoy yourself little girl no matter what you do! Would you, dear reader, like to reflect on how you ended up where you did in your career?? Are there any skeletons in your cupboard?


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