Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A tale of two sisters

My sister is one of my favourite people in the whole world. She's the person I miss the most from the UK, and although I love my three Canadian sisters-in-law dearly*, it's just not quite the same.

There was only ever going to be one answer to the "so who's gonna be your bridesmaid?!" question

Sis is two years younger than me, and always managed to be better than me at everything. I got excellent grades, but she always went just a little bit further, taking more subjects and managing to avoid the B I got in GCSE music. I sucked at sports, but she was in the school and county and/or city netball, field hockey, and cross country running teams. I got my Grade 6 music exam (classical guitar); she got her Grade 7 (clarinet). Thank the flying spaghetti monster that I'm the older one and didn't have to follow her and meet the expectations she set!

Fortunately for me, we chose different subjects in high school. There was lots of overlap in the GCSEs (the exams we took at the age of 16) we got, since certain core subjects are compulsory. However, when it came to our A level courses, we diverged significantly. At the time, students had to choose three (or occasionally four) subjects to study for the final two (optional) years of high school. I chose biology, chemistry and maths; sis chose history, French, and English language.

The interesting thing - and a sign of what was to come - is that when sis was making her choices, my Dad asked what we each would have chosen if we could have taken five subjects. I would have added French and history to my choices, and she would have added biology and maths to hers. So from no overlap at all in our three actual choices, with five we would have 80% of our subjects in common.

As it was though, we each followed our own paths. You know mine: undergrad degree in genetics, PhD in molecular cell biology, postdoc in molecular biology and genome evolution, marketing in the biotech industry, cancer research grant wrangler. My sister followed in the footsteps of both our parents, plus an auntie and a cousin, and did her degree in modern languages - French and Italian, to be precise**. Her department wanted her to stay and do a PhD, but she decided that this time she wouldn't try to outdo me, and went off to do an internship in the publishing industry in London (hence continuing her trend of moving ever further south, while I kept moving north and/or west).

Sis chose non-fiction, rather than fiction publishing, because editors get to have more input into the final product than in the fiction industry; they can suggest additions to the content, for example. To be honest I've lost track of her exact series of jobs because she moved around a lot in the first few years, but I know that she started off in the mind/body/spirit field (everything from astrology to fitness to psychology) before moving into a more medical/scientific space; her last job was at a journal publishing company that specialises in annual compilations of scientific review articles.

She just started a new job though, one she's very excited about. Like me when I moved into my current job, she's absolutely delighted to find herself in the non-profit sector, where the pay may be lower but people are (generally) nicer and everything's not just about the money. She's now helping to manage the publishing arm of one of the British medical professional societies, or Royal Colleges. Their output includes a journal, textbooks, electronic learning resources, special reports, clinical guidelines, and information for the public.

So, although we took very different paths through high school, university, and the early years of our respective careers, my sister and I now both have jobs where a large part of our role is to write and edit text about the same kind of cancer.

I say "it must be genetic", she says "Mamma Mia!", but we both think it's hilarious and awesome.


Well, something's definitely genetic.

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*I decided at the weekend, at the wedding of Mr E Man's brother to my newest sister-in-law, that if men get to "brothers from another mother", we get to be "sisters from distant misters"

Me and my lovely three sisters-in-law sisters-from-distant-misters on Saturday

**Mum: Spanish and French; Dad: French and German; Auntie: Spanish and Italian; Cousin: French and psychology. Plus one of my uncles has a degree in English, and another cousin who didn't go to university is fluent in German. I'm considered a freak in my family, although both of my male cousins are in technical fields, so I'm not completely alone.

22 comments:

  1. Funny how siblings are so different, but so alike too!

    My brother and I couldn't be more different - I've taken a more academic route, while he's always been an hands-on guy (can fix anything, has been in various trades, etc.). Funny though, as an electrician, he probably uses more physics than I do in everyday life! LOL!

    Question for you (inspired by your "couldn't care less" post): I've noticed Europeans use the word "maths", while North Americans use "math". Any reason why?

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  2. Yeah - we spent our entire childhoods alternating between best friends and sworn enemies, but ended up really very similar!

    A brother who's an electrician sounds very useful! Mr E Man's siblings are a roofer, a ski instructor, a lawyer, and a dress designer. We've used all their services so far except the lawyer :)

    I don't know about the maths vs. math thing. I guess that because mathematics is plural, we decided to make the contraction plural too, while North Americans just did a straight truncation of the full length word. Or something. I think it's one of those things that's just different, without any one way being the correct one :)

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  3. Both my brother and I did PhDs, but his was in reclaiming coal from cola tips, and mine was in plant pathology.

    And he ended up living in Slough.

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  4. Hmm, one of the cats tipped some cola over on our coffee table last week, but I didn't see any coal in it. No wonder it's such a specialised field.

    When I think of Slough I inevitably think of Ricky Gervais as David Brent reading John Betjeman's poem. Good times.

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  5. 'sfunny. Careers in my family have been all over the place, but the only thing that my father's family shares, at least, is a tolerable ability at woodworking. I come from a long line of Russian Jewish cabinet-makers; my late grandfather and all his siblings were all brilliant at crafts, and I have my great-grandfather's mahogany dining chairs, and a dresser made by my own father. I've also made quite a lot of our furniture, which Mrs Crox charitably describes as 'rustic'. There's a blog post in here somewhere.

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  6. Btw, though you say you were poor at sports, you've made up for it since, with your extensive cycling and kayaking and whatnot.

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  7. The older I become the more awesome my family is to me.

    My auntie inspired me into my particular multidisciplinary field of -ology and we now work in the same institute together. We've even published some papers together.

    -antipodean

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  8. Henry, I'd love to see a post about the furniture you've made!

    My husband is a second-generation movie set carpenter; both his brother-in-laws are in the industry too, so this probably has more to do with his father's cheerful and open nepotism than inherited skills. I'd absolutely love for him to make something for the house, but it's the absolute last thing he wants to do in his spare time after he's done it for up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week (sometimes more). A shame.

    Cycling and kayaking are both activities that don't require too much in the way of co-ordination or skill, and aren't associated in my mind with angry team-mates yelling at me for being rubbish :)

    I used to be somewhat decent at badminton though, strangely enough.

    Antipodean, that's so cool! You're so lucky! I'd like to have someone in my family who really appreciates the coolness and significance of some of the science my department's doing. My sister gets it more and more with each new job, but she's coming at the diseases we both write about from a clinical angle, whereas I'm much more involved in basic and translational science.

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  9. This is a very sweet post, Cath =) And so cool that your sister and you arrived at similar points from very different directions. My sisters and I are all in very different fields and none of us understands what the others do... and we still sometimes fight like twelve-year old kids... but your post reminds me that for all that, they are some of my best friends.

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  10. Very cool about your convergence of paths (as bean-mom said)!

    And of course you don't suck at sports: you can at least get into a kayak - we see pictures of that as proof!

    P.S. Maths always sounds weird to me. We just abbreviate the word as written: Math[del]ematics[/del]. (Can't actually use strikeout, del, etc.)

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  11. All accountants and lawyers and business stuff on one side with a smattering of teachers/inventors/tea tasters and market gardeners.

    We all rebelled against the accountants etc. I've ended up a rather weirdly qualified artist/teacher. And I run a part time gift shop with my mum. Sister started as a shop assistant and is now a very highly qualified teacher. Brother designs hardware for computer systems and I don't understand any of his stuff! He's designing tracking tags for small birds at present.

    We are all still very good friends but not a bit alike. I would miss them terribly if they were somewhere else!

    viv in nz

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  12. Such a sweet post, and lovely pics :)

    I realised comparing with my family and siblings that I went the way of my mother (being more math and chem/biology), and most of the others are in the field of social sciences... it's not the whole story but a part of it ;)

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  13. Family full of over-achievers, I say. ;)

    Also - are you sure that Vancouver is north of London? Have you checked a map? I have my doubts but am far too lazy to go and find out for sure.

    As for relatives, both my parents studies Physics and my brother Aerospace Engineering. In the extended family we have Materials Science and Geophysics, among other things. As a Molecular Biologist, I am definitely the black sheep of the family.

    Fun fact: my father, a now-retired Physics professor, once memorably cancelled his subscription to Scientific American as "it had too much recombinant DNA stuff in it".

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  14. Bean Mom - thanks! I have tons of friends with whom I share a mutual incomprehension of what the other one does, so it's nice that my sister and I can at least understand parts of each other's jobs!

    Fighting with siblings is 100% normal. As my Dad said when we were staying with my in-laws and Mr E Man paid his nephews to wash his car, "if two brothers go out to wash a car together and at least one of them doesn't end up soaking wet and furious, there's something wrong with them". Sure enough, five minutes later... my sister and I were good at that too!

    Silver Fox, there's a difference between fitness and coordination. Kayaking and cycling require the former, but not much of the latter, which is where I'm so deficient!

    Now that two people have mentioned the math/maths thing, I'm going to have to look it up and blog about it, aren't I? :)

    Eco, thanks!

    Knitter, I like "weird" combinations - gives you a fresh and unique insight into both fields! Your brother's work sounds really cool.

    BTW, how does one obtain a tea tasting position?!

    Chall, at least you can trace where your scientific aptitude came from! All I have is an old school report we found saying that my Granddad (who became, guess what, a teacher) had done well at chemistry when he was 14.

    Ricardipus, overachievers?! Pot calling the kettle black, by the sound of it...

    You are right - Vancouver is in fact a leeetle bit south of London. But it doesn't feel like it :)

    I don't think anyone else in my immediate family has ever read Scientific American - my sister may be in a scientific field now, but unlike me she's not a geek and doesn't read / think about science for fun!

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  15. Ricardipus> I think they are on the same level*... I remember being awfully confused about London being south and then Vancouver being where it is... :) For a while though, I was sure that Vancouver and Munich/middle Europe were on the same level* but that is wrong.

    *level = I can't remember if it is longitude or latitude. Me thinks longitude but it's one of those things...

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  16. Latitude. I'm (almost) certain of it. Because the LATitude lines are fLAT, and the longitude lines are all, well, long. :)

    North American and European latitudes never seem to match up in the way I expect. For example, New York City is level with Lisbon, I believe. Vancouver is level with the Channel Islands. It feels about the same as Glasgow, though, which is obviously well north of London. It's very confusing.

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  17. Really? I guess earth is longer from north to south than around? Since for me longitude seemed around ;) ahh... I'm helpless with that. Don't even get me started on the left/right in sea terms (might be different inSwedish compared to English but it just does not make sense in my brain ;) )

    And I agree on the weirdness, comparing where I am right now and what that correlates to in Europe/Med area - completely weird.

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  18. The key word is "all" - all longitude lines are long because they're all the same length; all of them go from the North Pole to the South Pole. The latitude lines get shorter the further you get from the Equator.

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  19. ...but confusingly, the longest line of latitude (the Equator) is longer than all of the lines of longitude, 'cos the Earth is bulgy around the middle due to spinnage.*

    *technical terms wot I learned from one of my over-achieving relatives

    Chall, Cath - what really bends my mind is that a really large proportion of the United States is north of large parts of Canada. Which is seems I waffled on about some four years ago...

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  20. "the Earth is bulgy around the middle due to spinnage"

    Like Popeye's muscles!!!

    Ahem.

    I knew some parts of the US (i.e. more than just Alaska) were north of some parts of Canada, but I didn't realise it was quite that much!

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  21. Cath said "North American and European latitudes never seem to match up in the way I expect."

    This actually caused a lot of people to die during the European colonisation of North America. They were expecting Paris and got Quebec City instead.

    -antipodean

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