I was born into a small religious movement and had a rather non-traditional upbringing. I went to 11 different schools by the age of 12, then was homeschooled throughout my teens without access to formal education. Despite this, I started an undergraduate degree in astrophysics at the age of 16, although soon dropped out.
Shortly after I left university, my family experienced an extended period of personal difficulties, through which time we experienced bankruptcy, divorce, eviction and homelessness. By the age of 21, I’d lived in 21 different houses.
Despite this, and despite my lack of formal education, a science career was extremely important to me. Circumstances meant that returning to astrophysics was very difficult, so I studied whatever sciences were immediately available: zoology, then biochemistry and genetics, then ecology, then marine biology, and oceanography. My goal was always to study skills which might be useful for astronomy someday (for example, the search for extremophiles, or the development of life on tidal moons).
Those subjects still interest me, but my passion was always theoretical cosmology. After a patchwork career in science, environmental management and the arts (with a psychology degree and some policy work thrown in for good measure), I finally had the opportunity to take up my dream placement studying relativistic hydrodynamics.
This is hardly an easy subject, but even less so for someone with a non-traditional background. Not having followed a standard route through high school or university has been challenging, but not impossible. I have got to where I wanted to be regardless of my circumstances, and have learned a lot of valuable and interesting things along the way. I’ve had many experiences that I probably wouldn’t have gained from a more traditional route, and have developed a lot of new skills to bring into astronomy.