Elma Feric does research on neuroscience. Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia, Elma lived in Germany for six years before coming to Boston. Her life path has not been easy, but she has persevered and found that “science is an experience… fueled by an honest mind and heart”.
I write this letter carefully as I know that you will read and re-read it many times and therefore, without trying, pick up any hint of a grammatical or spelling mistake I might make. Even though this will be your fourth language, you will find a way to master it just like the previous three. (If you knew how much you would be using it, I am sure you would not be skipping the English classes your dad had enrolled you in). I won’t berate you – I know that even at a young age you know your path and stand behind what you believe in, never letting anyone convince you otherwise. As you grow up, this will cause you much pain, but it will also lead you in directions you could have only imagined, rendering the pain a worthy price to pay. You will not only learn to rise above your pain, but you will also learn to hide it with your accomplishments and your undying optimism. This will make you an inspiration to many around you, and thus one of your sources of happiness and satisfaction.
Life has a lot in store for you, and one day you will realize that your long path to the world of science was filled with individuals and events that all happened for a reason. It will rarely be easy. You will lose your grounding and friendships before having a chance to realize what these things even mean. You will be tossed around the world and into situations little girls your age rarely experience. This will be painful. It will mean that at a young age, you will endure hardships that will force you to grow up quicker than those around you. You’ll be a very serious little girl, but you’ll find later that those hardships equipped you well for your role as scientist one day as you face difficulties in the lab as well as away from it.
However, regardless of how difficult or impossible life becomes at times, never ever give up. You’re also a very lucky little girl. I am proud of what you’ll become, but your path will be lined with mistakes that will often leave you frustrated, even desperate and alone at times. Embrace your errors not just by learning from them, but by understanding that they may be indicators of avenues that are yet to be explored. Use your vivid imagination and creativity to help you with that – this will eventually help you realize that science is an experience rather than just a series of chores of adding numbers or mixing chemicals. Science is as much a feeling as it is a mindset, and it is fueled by an open and honest mind and heart.
Your innate attraction to beauty in everything, as well as the urge to capture it will take you into many worlds of art, but none will make you complete until you begin combining them with the world of science. Never be afraid to follow your instinct and see that which others do not, and most importantly never be afraid to be who you are – you’ll be pleasantly surprised more times than you expect.
Your urge to help others will only become stronger, and this will make you realize that, in many ways, you were meant to be in science.
As I come to an end, I want to leave you with a few little things. You don’t always have to wear a lab coat to be a scientist – a pretty dress, matching eye shadow and heels are allowed, too! Also, you can do some science while dancing in lab and listening to your favorite music – I am convinced that it helps. And, lastly, regardless of how impossible and scary this may seem to you now at the age of eight, and how counterintuitive this seems to a scientist to suggest, don’t be afraid to let yourself blindly follow your parents’ advice.
Elma has been an electrophysiologist and a molecular neuroscientist in the Neuroscience Department at Amgen since 2008. She received her bachelor’s in Neuroscience and Psychology from Brandeis University in ’05 and is currently finishing up her master’s degree at Harvard University. Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia, she enjoyed six years in Germany before moving to Boston with her parents and younger brother. She has adored living in the Boston area since 1998.