By Jem Bauermeister
My parents taught me from home. That meant that most of my education was very different to a lot of other people. I used to hate feeling like an outsider but now I revel in it. I love that I fundamentally think differently to most.
SCA is the kind of place I would imagine my Mum would have designed if she had run a school. Or if she had 36 children. She was only a few off with her impressive brood of seven. It’s not surprising that she studied psychology and Marc also has a keen interest in the field. They have a number of things in common but the main one is a strong understanding of how fundamentally incapable the national education model is of doing its job.
My Mum is now a senior Doctor of research at the University of Oxford working mainly on figuring out Dementia and Alzheimers. She loves what she does. She loves it so much that people she comes in to contact with can’t help but love it too after meeting her. She got a standing ovation after giving her presentation to the research council on why they should renew her funding. She might be the first person in history who was applauded after asking for money. She approaches everything she does with infectiously raw passion for the role she plays. Not just in ageing research, not just in academia, but her role in the world.
If you spend five minutes talking to my Mum about her work, you can’t help but love it almost as much as she does.
So what is her secret? There’s one thing my parents have always practised and promoted in us that I think has made a huge difference to the way we’ve grown up. It first manifested itself in the form of my Dad’s favourite saying ‘there’s no such thing as can’t’ and then evolved in to a kind of gritty, goal oriented work ethic.
I’m still trying to figure out what exactly it is and how to define it, but my favourite way of explaining it is through the analogy of lightning. It would be natural to think that lightning strikes from above, coming from the clouds to hit the ground. But with typical cloud-to-ground lightning it starts with something called a stepped leader which looks like a giant branch but then the brightest part of the event is the return stroke, coming from ground and meeting in the middle.
I love this metaphor. I love it so much because it encapsulates a learning tool that my parents taught me growing up and there’s an essence of it in school as well. If I had to
name it I would call it lightning learning but really it’s never had a name before, it’s just the spirit of how we do things.
How does it work?
The stepped leader represents quantity. It represents the hard graft, the daily work, the failures. If you watch the gif you’ll see that hundreds of strands never make it into a strike (forgive my terrible understanding of science). But because there are so many, there’s a good chance something’s going to connect.
The return strike starts at the goal. Once you see what it is that you want, you work your way back from it. You do everything you need to do to get there. You say yes to everything and figure out the how’s on the way. You don’t let the gap between where you are and where you want to be scare you, you let it pull you. After the main event happens, after you reach your goal, it’s easy to see there was a path that extended the entire distance. Other people see it and it makes sense to them. But until that point, it looked like a bit of a mess.
My Mum wanted to be at Oxford University since she was seven years old. She used to support them in the boat race. It was always her dream. Even when she was a stay at home Mum between the ages of 23 and 36, she still always aspired to be an academic. When she stopped having children she went back to study. She studied two degrees from home with the Open University while homeschooling her seven children and running a busy household. She stayed up until midnight and then woke up at 4am every single day to get everything done. She was a full-time teacher and a full-time student at the same time.
When it came to doing her PhD, she couldn’t get funding. There was money available but only for specific studies. She wanted to do hers on the topic she was passionate about. So she applied to do it self-funded. She bred her pet Shih-Tzu dog to help pay for travel and courses. She needed someone to operate an MRI machine for part of her study so she bought a bunch of books on Physics and passed the exam which her professor hadn’t even taken. She said yes to everything. ‘Can you use this new statistical model Sarah?’ Yes. She’d buy the books and have it learned within a week. The answer was always yes because if someone could then she could.
This was the part when the goal was becoming tangible. This was the part where she knew what she wanted and she worked her way back from it. After she passed her PhD she took a job in Leeds. She could have gone closer to home (Hampshire) but she had to be doing what she was passionate about. She hadn’t come this far just to compromise. She lived there during the week and it was hard and it was horrible.
But she never gave up. She was there for two years before the funding ran out. That was tough on her and tough on the family for a few months. She applied for jobs every day. She was constantly preparing for and going to interviews in between writing papers for free for Leeds Uni. One day a job was posted on the University of Oxford Psychiatry Department’s website.
The role was a statistician job. My Mum is a Doctor of Neuroscience, but she’s also a fantastic statistician. The role wasn’t right but being at Oxford had always been her dream. She applied for it but the interview day was going to be while she was in Atlanta for a conference.
My Mum always wanted to work at Oxford since she was seven. She always wanted to work in researching ageing and mental health. Despite growing up in South Africa, Despite her first degree being in Sport Science, despite a phobia of exams, despite sacrificing a career to have children in her early twenties, despite lack of money, despite suffering through crippling ill health, despite applying for the wrong job, despite a Skype interview in a different time zone with a terrible connection…
Despite enough adversary to fill a book (which one day I’d love to do). My Mum was offered her dream job. Dr Sarah Bauermeister BA Hons, BSc Hons, MSc, PhD, CPsychol. Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford.
This was supposed to be a SCAB about the way my Mum taught my siblings and I but I went off on a bit of a tangent. I think this speaks for itself though. My Mum taught by example. She’s the biggest inspiration in my life and anytime I come close to wanting to make an excuse for something I remember her story and I remind myself that there’s no such thing as can’t.
Ironically she has a phobia of lightning.