This month we talked with Dr. Gavin Tansley, a PGY-7 in Critical Care Medicine completing his residency shortly. We had a great time interviewing him on his experience being an astronaut candidate for the Canadian Space Agency, and hope that you enjoy this month’s interview.
You were an astronaut candidate for the Canadian Space Agency, going through a qualification process involving a series of aptitude tests. Which task or test did you find to be the most unexpected? Which was your favourite?
The CSA used a survival training school in Halifax for some of their evaluations. They have this big pool that they can make really choppy to simulate big ocean swells. We spent a day there jumping into it off of platforms or being tossed around in survival rafts. I remember questioning the relevance, but I didn’t care. It was too much fun.
The next day I found myself sewing pieces of fabric together in this timed exercise. I couldn’t understand the rationale for the exercise at all. I poked myself with the needle so many times and was super embarrassed about it since I was a surgery resident.
When did you know or decide that you wanted to try out to be an astronaut? Did it influence your decision to apply for medical school and become a surgeon?
I remember reading a short biography of Dafydd Williams when I was in high school. He was one of the first Canadian astronauts. Reading about his career achievements before the CSA made me realize that I wanted mine to look similar in 20 years. I realized around then that I would eventually apply to the CSA. I knew that the chances were remote but I liked having the motivation to continue pursuing excellence in the areas I was interested in. I was already planning to pursue medicine at that time but I always told myself that I would be open to applying to the CSA if the opportunity came up. Being a resident still when the application process started wasn’t ideal, but it’s an opportunity that only comes up every decade or so, so I jumped at it.
Was there anything you learned about yourself during this process that was unexpected?
Ultimately I was unsuccessful, but despite that I am tremendously proud of the experience. I realized that it is still possible to be proud of failures. I am way less afraid to try things I might not be successful at now.
What have you come away with after this process, that you continue to carry with you?
Undoubtedly the relationships. The CSA couldn’t have made a bad choice from the applicants that they had. It was a really refreshing reminder of how much talent we have in Canada.
Your residency finishes at the end of this month. Congratulations! What are some of your plans for the future, now that residency is done?
My first job is to spend some time with my wife. She’s supported me unconditionally through residency, the CSA application process (she still calls it space camp), and fellowship. I also started flying lessons during fellowship. Something that I wanted to do since I read the bio of Dafydd Williams. I’m looking forward to finishing that and having a new way to explore this amazing country.