This is my common app essay on the prompt
Share an essay on any topic of your choice.
It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design
"Why would you want your hair to turn grey while staring at a problem which you might never even solve?" These words by Prof. Sanjit Mitra, a brilliant grey-haired researcher at IUCAA (Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics), did not lead up to the conversation I expected before walking in his room. Only several sleepless nights and retrospection episodes later, did I realize the significance of this much ignored question.
... after gazing at a globe and then up in his father's russet brown eyes, a kindergartner exclaimed, 'I can't believe the Earth is not flat Dad! I'll become an astronaut one day and find out the truth".
Fascinatingly enough, one small moment of awe and arbitrary scepticism influenced that kindergartner's life for years to come. Whether it was irresolutely choosing 'Popular Science' in bookstores over 'Spectacular Spiderman', or watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos on repeat instead of Power Rangers, I never stopped to ask myself- why?
Were fictional worlds not as appealing to me as the mind-boggling quantum realms? Did my overwhelmed self consider pondering over life decisions rather than the array of ideas I had, irrational? Regardless of the cause, my intense craving to understand this clockwork universe fuelled my spacecraft of imagination and my expeditions in the realms of astronomy continued.
During summers, I worked at prestigious observatories with brilliant scholars to push my horizons of knowledge astronomical distances away. Every spectrum I analysed, and every other research forum I participated in, made me feel as if pieces of a puzzle were falling beautifully in place.
However, all this changed when I stammered while answering Prof. Mitra. I walked home feeling terrified by the fact that I stood unaware of the reasons why I've devoted half of my life doing things that I did.
If watching a globe for the first time was my 'falling-apple moment', then my 'Eureka moment' happened 12 years later when I stood under the massive 3.6m Devasthal Telescope. The dome loudly slid open to expose the magnificent winter sky of Nainital. And it struck me- I'm nothing but a neat yet highly insignificant arrangement of stardust amidst the vast enveloping universe. I chose to explore this humbling idea every night for the same reason why I take out telescopes to freezing cold roofs instead of sleeping peacefully at 3 a.m.
My abstraction was not just humbling, but also inspiring. From that point of time, science became a symbol of the robustness of our lives. Science became an opportunity for me to keep contributing towards a brighter future even long after I'm gone.
If it wasn't for the unexpected question and my frankensteinish reply at IUCAA, I might have parted ways with science by now. Because I studied enough physics to explain most of the questions an average Joe would throw at me, I would have felt something which a true scientist should never feel: satisfaction. Fortunately, my days at IUCAA were a reminder that my story was never about answering the most complex questions. It was about questioning the most obvious answers. It was, and will always be, about transforming lives.
Last August, after my finger-style guitar performance in an inter-school competition, a member from the judging panel asked me, "What is it that you want to do in your future?". My instantaneous reply, 'ASTROPHYSICS!', came as a surprising answer to many. He raised an eyebrow and followed with a familiar sounding question, "You can tour the world with your guitar if you remain dedicated, but you want to spend your life inside a room stuffed with redolent old books. Why?" Facing the bright lights and the packed auditorium, I smiled. This time I knew exactly what I'd say- "Yes. Maybe it does mean I'll spend my life behind closed doors. But if it also means I could be opening portals of knowledge for generations to come, count me all in for it."