Let there be life

University of Queensland marketing specialist Danielle Koopman has decided to stray from the usual mid-life crisis coping mechanisms of buying a car or travelling to Tuscany, and instead is taking on a health science degree.

The act of being here is nothing short of a miracle.  An infinite number of biological processes shape our early existence, from which genes we inherit through to an intricate, carefully orchestrated series of cell divisions and specialisations involving complex electrical and chemical reactions, each ultimately shaping the person we are born to be.

At the age of 47, I am learning about the fascinating complexities of life after a light-bulb moment two years ago when I decided I wanted to radically change my career; from media and marketing professional to health practitioner.

As far as mid-life crises go, there have been times when I have thought it would have been much easier to just run away to Tuscany or launch myself into amateur theatre.

And, like having children, had I known what was in store for me, I may very well have never set out on this course.

But, like having children, returning to university almost three decades after graduating to study something fascinating and completely foreign to me has changed and enriched me in ways difficult to quantify.

Intellectual rewards aside, I have been surprised and delighted by the friendships I have forged: so many whip smart young people with a smorgasbord of opportunities ahead of them and so much to offer the world.

The kindness and patience they show me – someone perhaps at least as old their mother – has been unexpected and warming. And I am now much better acquainted with emojis…

 Yes, I have wept over chemistry, scientific statistics and all the assumed knowledge of maths and physics that I simply didn’t possess. And I have raged against my slower brain that seems too full of 70s and 80s song lyrics to retain formulas and anatomical terms.


While I am learning the language of science, I confess that where others see elegance in mathematical theory, I am still blinded by terror. But I have learned to appreciate the elegance of life: complex, yet so cleverly constructed from such simple common elements. 

I am fascinated by the research of our lecturers who often work at the brink of human knowledge, the unknown brimming with fascinating possibilities that could change our lives.

We are now designing treatments that harness our natural biology and I see a golden future where stem cells, bacterial cultivation and electrical manipulation of the coding in our cells and neural systems will create a race less burdened by disability. Future generations will shake their heads in wonder at the bluntness and crudity of our current medical practises.

When I was imagining what my future children would be like, I am ashamed to say I imagined something like a mini-me, but more perfect.  Given the choice I certainly would never have ticked the boxes for dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Aspergers syndrome, gender dysphoria or even – if I am truthful – the fact that all three of my children are boys.

But my children have shown me that humanity is a rich spectrum and to be outside the bell curve is not necessarily a defect; it can bring important and unique perspectives that enrich our species and help us evolve.

Given the opportunity, would I have fixed my children’s ‘outlier’ attributes when they were in-utero?  Absolutely, yes. I would have said it was to ensure they had the best life possible. But I am grateful I was unburdened by the knowledge of what was to come because I got the opportunity to know them as the funny, talented, exhausting and sometimes infuriating humans that they have become.

I have deep admiration for the work of our professors and their colleagues.  Undoubtedly it will lead to a world with less suffering. But with such power to change the course of human development will come some deeply complex questions for our species: what is a defect? Who decides? How much variation do we need to maintain in our species and how do we achieve that?

I don’t have the answers, but getting to know the friends I have made through study, I would say the future is in good hands.


Last updated:
21 July 2016