Student Stories

Defying The Norm

Read how Wei Ann bravely carves her own path against a conventional education system.

Heng Wei Ann
Kuala Lumpur Studied in University of Manchester Masters in Physics

Throughout my A-Levels, I was asked one question continuously: “What are you going to study at university?” As someone who often found herself constantly debating social issues and being drawn to journalism, social sciences seemed like the obvious answer. So, I applied to study Economics and Sociology. What I failed to prepare for was falling in love with mathematics and physics during my A-Levels.

I was stuck. I knew that I was fascinated by the workings of the universe, but I had no idea how to translate this into further study or a career. The only STEM degrees that people around me were pursuing was Engineering, which didn’t make sense for me, I didn’t care about industrial machines, bridges or gas flows – I cared about particles, forces, and zombie cats in boxes.

Despite feeling conflicted, I stuck with Economics and ended up starting my degree at The University of Manchester in 2014. There, I spent a week attending Social Science classes while looking to electives to satisfy my science bug. I found exciting classes in linear algebra, applied Physics and statistical mechanics that challenged and intrigued me. For the first time in my life, I realised that studying a fundamental science was an option. With that realisation, it all fell into place – I had found the answer to my cravings of understanding the world through symmetry and elegant equations – I wanted to be a Physicist.

I took a chance and emailed the Physics department at Manchester, and by some fine chance or twist of fate, was accepted into one of the best Physics departments in the country. I started my classes the very next week and haven’t looked back since. Now, 4 years later, I have a first-class Masters in Physics under my belt, having completed a masters project studying dark matter at the LHC. Looking back, this is the best decision I have ever made in my life, and of all the alternate outcomes of my academic career, I am so glad to be living in this one.

The Malaysian schooling system is structured such that students are encouraged to identify as one “type” of person – arts, humanities or science. Because I always thought that I could only be one of them, I missed out on many opportunities to expand my knowledge and explore possible interests. Furthermore, the emphasis of choosing degrees based on traditionally conventional careers means that students have a very small selection of options. I believe that if I was raised in a community where the study of fundamental sciences and careers in academia were more commonplace, I would have chosen to study Physics from the start. I know many talented young Malaysians who would be perfect for a career in science, but have gone down different academic and career paths instead for the same reasons that almost stopped me.

I have one piece of advice to impart from my experience: if you find yourself madly curious about the invisible equations that seem to govern the laws of motion, the existence of pulsars spinning light years away, or the violent smashing of subatomic particles in the name of science – consider studying Physics. In fact, if you are curious about why the world as we know it is the way it is, consider studying science, mathematics, or computer science. It isn’t any less legitimate a degree than law or engineering, and will equip with a set of skills that will carry you through a wide variety of careers.

University of Manchester
Manchester, UK View Profile