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Dr Sophie Petit-Zeman
writer on health, science and social care

Falling in love with my biology teacher when I was 13 inspired me to take up science. There’s nothing like falling in love for overcoming challenges in education.

Emotions aside, my biology teacher was a fantastically intelligent man, who somehow helped me to understand how we and other biological systems work. Perhaps more importantly, he helped me to accept limits to this understanding, while offering other panaceas – bits of poetry, philosophy and interesting stuff about languages – for my general and sometimes fraught wonderings about the world. And all this, in very small classes. While I’m sure some people thrive on the school science lesson mêlée, I suspect that small classes suit more people than ever get the chance to try them.

All of this instilled, or ran alongside, a strong desire to know. I wanted answers to questions about life, its point and purpose. I was wrong to think that science could really provide these answers, but as it became my career – with more strong, enthusiastic mentors along the way – I was pleased when it offered partial explanations.

I’m sure I’ll always go on asking awkward and difficult questions, and science won’t sort them, but science has brought some astoundingly satisfying moments – knowing about how brain cells talk to each other, because I saw them doing it when researching epilepsy and stroke; or seeing just what sort of genes are inside cells, when researching the causes of motor neurone disease. Perhaps the real drive to take up science in the first place, second only to love, was that it can bring deeply reassuring glimmers of understanding in a world where these are pretty hard to come by.

Sophie Petit-Zeman is author of Doctor, What’s Wrong?: Making the NHS Human Again (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and How to Be an Even Better Chair: Sensible Advice from the Public and Charity Sectors (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).