Taking the road less travelled: Why I decided to pursue Aerospace Engineering

HIGH school graduate Vong Chen Kwang could not decide which university course would be right for him. He writes about his unusual approach that eventually led him to enrol in an Aerospace Avionics degree.

Why I study Aerospace Engineering

I sat on my bed in uncertainty about my future as any other high school student will have to face at some point. The problem: I would be graduating in about 3 weeks, and I was still lost about what course I would enrol in, or university I would join. I was a “science” sort of person and followed a very stereotypical Asian persona: good marks in science and math-related subjects; less interested in others. I had the option of doing medicine in University of Melbourne or trying out Actuarial science in Macquarie University. I disliked the idea of doing something average and wanted to break out of the norm, but still lead a happy life.

Perhaps I should have spent more time thinking about my future as opposed to hanging out at the cinema with friends and doing other teenage stuff. I did try shadowing and part-timing in a diverse selection of jobs, firms and companies wishing to get a taste of various occupations – none of which I particularly liked.

That being said, going to the movies was what actually helped me make a decision for what I want to do in future.

So as I gave up on the train of thought that led nowhere, I got out of my room and went down to the cinema to catch Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier with my friends. Now this piece isn’t about how good or bad the movie was, but rather how it served as an inspiration for me (I do think, however, that Chris Evans is a hunk).

I sat in my seat beside my friends enjoying the movie until it reached the point where the character Falcon made his appearance. Falcon is a pararescue soldier who did not operate by traditional means of a parachute; instead, he uses mechanical wings to fly around.

As I watched the CGI and explosions flash on the screen, I was transfixed by the idea of human flight as many other unfortunate people, over many thousands of years, tried to emulate using all sorts of means from unsuccessful wax and bird feathers to disastrous pyramid-shaped parachutes. With my limited physics and science knowledge, I tried to comprehend whether the device Falcon uses is actually legitimate. Isn’t his wingspan too small? How does he stay aloft? What kind of fuel was he using? And many more questions sprang up in my head. This began my thirst for knowledge.

The movie ended and all I could blabber about to everyone was how cool such a device could be. I got home and quickly scoured the Internet about the science of flight. With the little information I found, it turns out you can actually compensate for wingspan with thrust, use ultralight carbon fibre for wings and a pressured tank for fuel to achieve flight.

This is how Yves Rossy, a Swiss pilot and aviation enthusiast (also known as Jetman), achieved the title of being the inventor of a legitimate jetpack. This man has flown over the Alps Mountain Range achieving a top descent speed of 304 kilometers an hour and has been showcased by Stan Lee’s Superhumans show.

Rossy loves flying and you can see how many others who post about the science of flight have passion for the subject. This read and many others made me recall a poem by Robert Frost:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Comic artist Zen Pencils has also illustrated this poem in a visual manner for those of you who like to see (you should check out his site if you like philosophy quotes illustrated).

A strong poem that can be interpreted in many different ways, but the way it spoke to me was crystal clear:

We all have to make choices everyday in our lives from small issues such as what we should have for lunch to big issues like moving to another country and so forth. But the wonderful philosophy I picked up from the poem was very simple and direct:

Take the road less travelled”

What does that mean? Don’t follow the crowd? Be a hipster?

While the phrase can mean different things to different people, I have interpreted it as: it matters not what path you take; it’s how you walk your path. Uncertainty is a constant factor in life and we cannot waste time dawdling about what choice to make because time is of the essence. We should not be worrying about making the wrong choice but rather, wasting time and resources making our decision, because when it comes down to the basics, its not about what we do in our everyday lives, its how we walk it.

As I previously mentioned, I tried out a multitude of part time jobs, working in firms and interviewing many people about their profession but was never satisfied. Now I understand how one who picks up roadkill can lead a happier life than some really rich people I know.

It comes down to your attitude.

Alright, I’ve beaten about the bush quite a bit now, but returning to the main subject with this idea in mind, I have chosen to do Aerospace Avionics in Queensland University of Technology. A course of which most have not heard of, but I think it will suit me well. I could just as well pursue a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne or the Actuarial course in Macquarie (which I think would kill me). It helps if you like what you do, but it’s more important to do it with a good frame of mind.

I know I will stumble at times during this course and face many hardships, but will always remember to do it well. Even though I’m still very young and inexperienced, I think we could all use a little swagger in our walk everyday.

Find joy in what you do and do it well. Life isn’t a walk in the park but we can grumble all the way leading to a life we regret or it can be a walk with swagger – a journey that we can be proud of in spite of the challenges and circumstances we face.

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  1. Great article!

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