W hen I was in ninth grade, I opened a time capsule from fourth grade. Flipping through my old journal, I saw a fill-in-the-blank that said, “When I grow up, I want to be a neuroscientist.”

I doubt I even knew what the word meant then, but I’d always been interested in language. Back when people read newspapers, my father used to clip William Safire’s “On Language” column for me, and he bought me books on codes. In high school, that interest in language led to curiosity about how the brain processes language, and from there to how the brain works in general.

It certainly wasn’t the typical Bais Yaakov career path. At one seminary interview, I was smart enough not to answer “neuroscience,” when asked about my plans, so I said something vague about linguistics. “Oh, that’s great,” the rav answered. “We’re affiliated with a really strong speech therapy program, and you can take classes while you’re here.”

Once I announced my decision, reactions were... mixed. A lot of well-meaning family and friends were convinced I’d never find a shidduch. Their fears weren’t wholly unfounded, based on my friends’ experiences.

What helped me was the explosion of frum women in the workforce. A generation ago, you didn’t have that, but by that point, the idea of a working mother was already well-entrenched. I also felt grounded by the support of my mentors, both from high school and seminary, who never told me this wasn’t a career for a Bais Yaakov girl (despite my attending a seminary decidedly not known for its support of advanced secular education).

I spent two and a half years in college, then eight years in an MD-PhD program. (I needed a medical degree to conduct human research studies, which generally require a supervising medical doctor). I studied everything from fruit-fly development to Alzheimer’s. My father used to remind me that in seven years, I’d be seven years older no matter what — do I want to look back regretfully, wishing I’d gone for my dream, or with satisfaction?

I got married during my second semester of med school, and had all five of my children — including twins — during my schooling. Those years were a blur. Although my colleagues were pretty understanding, I tried to be super-productive at home so no one would think I wasn’t committed. I spent maternity leaves writing abstracts and papers.

I couldn’t have managed without my husband’s support. When we got married, he was finishing up semichah and a master’s in medieval Jewish history. Shortly afterward he started law school at night, while learning in a yadin-yadin kollel. His schedule wasn’t exactly easy, but he did the weekend child care for years so I could study or go into the hospital. Our parents also helped out, entertaining the kids on Sundays so I could study.

Research was exciting, but after a few years of the PhD program I began to get a little burned out by microscopes and mice, and felt disconnected from reality. I realized that I actually loved working with patients, particularly kids, so I switched to pediatric neurology. That entailed a five-year residency, followed by a yearlong fellowship in neuro-oncology — about 16 years of training in all. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 574)