Support Provided ByLearn More

Full Bloom

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Click here for Tanzeem’s profile.

I remember the first time we spoke with Tanzeem Choudhury on the phone. Her science was amazing – she develops cell-phone apps that monitor our emotional well-being and help us live healthy lifestyles. And we knew that our audience would find it amazing as well (watch her videos and you’ll see). But Tanzeem didn’t have an obvious “secret life” – you know, something like

Support Provided ByLearn More
juggling or professional wrestling or collecting cosmic neckties . And we pretty much need that sort of thing since it’s in the name of the series.

Full Bloom-tanzeem_for_blog_post.jpg
Tanzeem and her college buds thinking about computers

Then she mentioned that the first time she ever touched a computer – clearly a key tool in the digital behaviorist world she now inhabits – was when she was 18 years old!


Now part of this was generational. These days, hospitals practically include wi-fi passwords on newborns’ little hospital bracelets. And in fact, Tanzeem explained that her son started playing with the iPad when he was about six months old. Then again, Tanzeem is a relatively young woman – nowhere near as old as me (as a point of reference, most of my college exams took the form of cave paintings and rock formations). Also, Tanzeem did grow up in Bangladesh where computers were not nearly as plentiful then as they were for most of her new college classmates at the University of Rochester in upstate New York.

Still, this is a woman who now teaches a class at Cornell called “Ubiquitous Computing.” How in the world did she get from there to here?

It turns out she just dove in.

The first time Tanzeem used a computer was not when she was goofing around with one in the school library or trying to play a game on a friend’s computer. It was when she took an undergraduate class in computer programming! What courage, right? “I’ve never even touched one of these things, but I’m going to make one work.” As a lifelong coward, I am still astonished at this. And after some initial battles with the “return” key, our digital late-bloomer, Tanzeem really bloomed. She does indeed teach “Ubiquitous Computing.” And her BeWell app is going to help lots of people stay healthy. And who knows what other great things she’ll do next?

What’s the moral of the story? First, we do love us some wrestling microbiologists, but sometimes the least obvious “secret lives” can be among the very coolest. And secondly, as we see with Tanzeem, it doesn’t matter when you find your
passion… it’s what you do with it once you find it.

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.