Ishara Mills-Henry’s letter to her young self

As a young girl, Ishara thought about becoming an artist or an astronaut. She also thought about joining the Peace Corps.



Dear Pumpkin,

You are growing up fast and are soon heading to the dreaded freshman year in high school. I know you are extremely shy, a little unsure of yourself and not sure what you are good at. Where do I begin? How can I give you advice on all of the things that will be important to your success when you “grow up”? The first thing is that word success. You will learn that it means different things to different people. One thing you should remember is to never let someone else dictate your success.

“Sure, it is important to get advice and to listen to mentors who will assist you and support you along life’s journey. But ultimately you have to find out what is meaningful to you and determine how you want to define a successful life.”

Since you are still trying to figure out what you are good at, right now I know you are interested in so many things, it almost changes every week! One week it is an artist, the next week it is joining the Peace Corps, the following week it is an astronaut, and sometimes it seems that you have not one clue. That’s o.k., you don’t have to have it all figured out. Even your older self is still figuring out exactly what she wants to do when she “grows up”. I think the fact that you are sometimes indecisive will actually help you in the future. Having an open mind will open up avenues that you could never imagine. I think you always were interested in science, but actually becoming a biologist at this point in your life seems unattainable. You will come to realize that your impression of scientists is completely wrong! They are not all men, who wear white lab coats and work in a basement with tons of Bunsen burners and beakers.

Curiosity killed the cat?

Although I do understand where this phrase comes from and why it is used, I am going to tell you to look at it in a

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different way. Never lose your curiosity. All of those questions that are in your head, the how’s and the why’s, keep asking those questions and keep searching for answers. Learning never finishes when you are out of school; enjoy learning about all of those things that you question. Keep feeding that imagination! Remember when you made a makeshift terrarium out of a shoebox to observe the green caterpillar in your backyard turn into a butterfly; never forget that yearning for understanding. I know you are shy but don’t be afraid to ask questions in class. You know that uneasy feeling in your stomach that you get when you want to say something in class but you don’t want it to be wrong. Don’t let that stop you from speaking up; many times you will learn more from your question than the lecture itself.

You may not be great at everything you like but you can still do your best.

Remember the time that you picked up a crayon and started to draw and your parents politely said you were a great drawer. Well, you will find out that you will not go on to create a piece of art like Monet or Van Gogh. However, you will find that even if you are not great at something if you continue to try and do the best that you can do, you will get better at it. You may not create a piece of art worth millions of dollars but your effort will be worth it.

Life is never an easy road to travel; there will be many bumps along the way. When you are traveling down this road you will see you can’t control when and where the bumps may appear. Sometimes the bumps show up at the most inopportune times. There will be times when you feel like completely giving up on your dreams and goals. However, you must remember what our parents always told us. Never give up! You were always fascinated with the image of the frog with its hands around the throat of the heron that was ready to have him for dinner. When you feel like giving up the fight, remember this image and that God will never give you more than you can handle. Dig in your heels and continue to believe in yourself. It will not be an easy road, but you will find the more you push yourself, the more you can accomplish. Don’t worry about failing; because not only do you learn from your failures, but it is through the failures that you can rejoice in the successes!

Love you dearly,

“Big” Pumpkin


Ishara Mills-Henry is the program director of Science of the Eye. She received
her PhD in biochemistry from MIT in 2007 where she studied the properties of
the crystallin proteins. After her graduate work, she continued as a
postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of John Dowling at Harvard University,
researching the development of rod photoreceptors. Currently, she is a
postdoctoral fellow at TERC researching inquiry-based initiatives in science
education. Dr. Mills-Henry has led workshops for high school science teachers
on the evolution of the vertebrate eye and the structures of proteins involved
in vision. She has a special interest in finding ways to engage high school

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