Rocket science can be a roadmap for life, says this astrophysics alum

You’ve heard the expression “it’s not rocket science”—meaning that the topic at hand is comparatively simple. But in his breakthrough 2020 book, Ozan Varol ’03—who contributed to two Mars Rover missions as an undergrad—rejects the idea that designing a voyage to the cosmos is inherently unfathomable to all but the most rarified experts.

Instead, in Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life, he turns its basic principles into a straightforward blueprint to achieving your own dreams.

“Smart and witty,” said a review in Publishers Weekly, “Varol’s masterful analysis explains complicated scientific principles and connects them to ordinary life for a mainstream audience.”

Book cover: Think Like a Rocket Scientist

Varol’s own nonlinear path embodies the advice he offers. He immigrated from Turkey at 17 to study astrophysics on the Hill; he worked under Steven Squyres ’78, Ph.D. ’81 (now a professor emeritus of astronomy), scientific principal investigator on the Mars Rover project.

After earning a JD at the University of Iowa and working as a law clerk and attorney, Varol joined the faculty at Lewis & Clark Law School—but in 2021, a year after Rocket Scientist made a splash, he realized that academia wasn’t the right path for him.

“We tend to see what we’ve done previously in life, and left behind, as a waste,” Varol observes from his home in Portland, Oregon, which he shares with his wife and two dogs, Einstein and Sputnik. “But I think it’s a compost pile that you can use as fertilizer for what’s awakening. That’s certainly been true for me.”

To the delight of fellow Cornellians, he was the keynote speaker at the annual Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference in San Diego in February 2023. This summer, he’ll deliver the Olin Lecture at Reunion—mainly focusing on content from his latest book, Awaken Your Genius, published in April 2023.

Varol will deliver the Olin Lecture at Reunion ’23 from 3–4 p.m. on Friday, June 9, in Bailey Hall (it will also be livestreamed and available for viewing after the event).

Read more about Ozan Varol on the Cornellians website.


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