Starry eyed

Asif Ahmed (BSc '06, MNucSc '12)
05 Dec 2022

Science was already a strong passion of mine when I first arrived in Australia from Bangladesh to finish my final two years of schooling. I was fascinated by the stars and our solar system. With the Mount Stromlo Observatory on our doorstep, and the NASA Canberra Deep Space Communication Network just a short drive away, it only fuelled my passion further. Seeing and dodging kangaroos and wombats on field trips to Stromlo and Tidbinbilla was just an added bonus to living and learning in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

My love for science probably grew from the fact that I was never really that good at much else, and the more time I spent in Canberra, and got to know the stars above, the more I realised I had come to the right place. Not only was the ACT considered one of the best regions in the world for astrophotography and stargazing, because of its lack of light pollution, but it was also home to The Australian National University (ANU), where I would go on to make some lifelong connections.
After all, there aren't many universities in Australia where you can meet someone one day, and then years later tell your family and friends that you have shaken hands with a Nobel Prize laureate. Just as I am able to do, having been on a course with the current Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt a decade ago. Those are the types of connections you can make at ANU.
On leaving school I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to ANU where I started an astronomy degree and then changed to nuclear physics. As the premier university in Australia, I was attracted to ANU because of its very good reputation and science faculty - especially physical sciences - and more so because it has astronomy and nuclear physics departments that are extremely well established and reputed not just in Australia, but around the world.
Starting off as a star gazing student in more ways than one, I now look back on my time at ANU with very fond memories. Maybe I was too starry-eyed studying astronomy at first, because I soon realised that jobs in the field were going to be few and far between and that my strong interest in nuclear physics, which had a commercial angle to it and potentially better job prospects, was where I needed to focus for my honours.
Reflecting on my time at ANU and my studies in particular, I've come to realise that tertiary education not only provides you with knowledge, but it also makes you think better and in a more sophisticated way. In that way, my studies at ANU have changed how I look at life, how I look at work, and how I in turn do the work.
I think this has to do with a combination of the faculty that I was involved with and the connections I made with the teachers, the lectures and of course the other students with whom I studied, my peers. To be surrounded by that collaboration and knowledge, that shared passion, and enthusiasm to keep learning was inspiring and drove me to do well. In a way, it was kind of like an inspirational and good form of 'peer pressure'.
My advice to current students is that you may never meet a more impressive cohort of people in one area, at any one time in your life. So be present. Don't think too far ahead into the future because you don't know where it will take you or how it will pan out. Just live in the moment and look to make those connections.
For me, living in the moment meant not really thinking about what I was wearing when I received my Distinguished Scholar Award from the then Minister for Science, only to have my good friends and peers make fun of me for turning up in a long black overcoat and sandals. But that was the physics department at the time, it was a good humoured, a little crazy and a lot of fun, and I hope that's still the case. And speaking of physics, thank you Professor Schmidt for your inspiration to many students, including me, and thank you for your extraordinary contribution to the field of physics.
Thank you also to my wife for her ongoing love and support throughout my studies and career. From growing up together in Bangladesh to both studying at the ANU, where she has a master's degree in finance and one in accounting too, Canberra and the campus is very important to us both. So much so that we often visit the grounds with our sons for their soccer training and who knows, perhaps they may also find their way to the ANU in the years to come, starry eyed or not.
Page Owner: Alumni