Serving in the Military as a Full-Time Student

By Clare He

Source: The Canadian Press

Over the past few years, non-traditional education pathways have become more and more prevalent. Whether it’s receiving your postsecondary education online, in the evening, or while working, students are becoming more aware of these alternative routes. Having access to these customizable learning plans allow people of varying circumstances to receive an education that suits their lifestyle, financial situation, and career goals. Still, for many of us, our lives continue to follow the traditional stages: high-school, university/college, and then the workplace. Often, straying from what is “normal” feels impossible or too far-fetched to consider: it can be incredibly difficult to sacrifice the comfort of stability and routine for the uncertainty of our dreams. 

This fear of deviation has not been a barrier for Abbhinav Rajan Murali, a first-year student in the Mathematics and Physical Sciences program specializing in Mathematics and its Applications (Probability/Statistics) at the University of Toronto. Despite attending university full-time, he has chosen to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces while completing his degree. Originally from Melfort, Saskatchewan, a small city with a population of 5000, Murali has always wanted to make his own way in the world. However, from within the confines of his rural hometown and the disapproval of his parents, he had little parental and financial support to pursue his aspirations of becoming a pilot. Longing to have access to the opportunities of a big city, he accepted admission to the University of Toronto to experience a new environment. His newfound life in the city awarded him just that: incredible individual freedom to explore, think, and chase his long-neglected wish of becoming a pilot. Coupled with the financial stability the military would give him, what once felt like a distant goal became very real once more.

I sat down with Murali in hopes of exploring his background and story, his motivations behind this decision, and how Mathematics and Physical Sciences fit into his military aspirations after graduation.

Why did you choose to join the military and what did you need to do?

“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot, but I come from a very middle-class household, so I really can’t afford going to private flight school after university. The military would offer me a flight school, and I could train for free to become a pilot. For me it was an impulsive decision, but I’ve always wanted to go into something related to civil services and work for the people. Joining the military is like any other process, it’s like applying to university. You have to pass entrance tests, you have to pass medical exams, you have to pass an interview which I have yet to do. For example, there’s the Canada Forces Aptitude Test which has three parts: English, spatial reasoning, and problem solving. The English part, it tests you on your vocabulary. The spatial reasoning part is mostly like an IQ test where they can see how your brain functions and then the problem solving is basic high school math.”

There are a few military programs. Which one are you in?

“I’m close to completing the process for the Canadian Armed Forces. They offer the Regular Officer Training Plan… where if you enroll in the military you become an officer, and you need an undergraduate degree. So the military basically funds my degree at a civilian university. And they also cover my living expenses. It’s basically like living on a salary while studying, but the salary goes to the university. And it’s [a] given [that] if they do I have to serve after graduation. A minimum contract is probably 4-6 years.”

How might your UofT program fit with your military aspirations? 

“I’ve always been interested in logical approaches like deductive reasoning and problem solving in general. Math teaches you a different way of thinking than any other program, so tackling problems from different perspectives really helps when working in a bigger setting and a lot is on the line.” 

Murali still awaits his final interview, and if he is fully admitted into the training program, he will begin his training this summer.

My conversation with Murali made me evaluate how we often give up our true desires for a level of certainty and stability in our lives. Chasing our dreams may sound simple at first, but taking the plunge is actually incredibly difficult. Murali’s conviction to take his education and life into his own hands made me evaluate the scope of my own objectives and the long way I still have to go to get there. Like Murali, I don’t want to regret the life I could have lived when I am older. Just because your dreams may be different from others or you haven’t encountered someone in the same situation as you, doesn’t mean they are any less worthy of pursuing. Give it a shot! The results may surprise you.

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