Tony Venning discovered hidden strengths as an adult student

Medical physicist Tony Venning is living proof that anything is possible when you start to believe in yourself. “I wasn't academically inclined at school and I wasn't very interested in maths and physics – so when I left school I never thought to go to university.”

Instead, Tony worked for a number of years as a plumber and then a postman. “I would be riding my bike around as a postman and I’d do a lot of thinking about what I really wanted to do with myself. I knew I needed something more challenging."

He decided that joining the Royal NZ Air Force would provide the challenge he needed. “I met up with them but when they saw my grades they were like, ‘Boy, you need to go back to school and get some qualifications’. So I went back to school as an adult student – to Hagley Community College [in Christchurch]. I repeated Sixth Form and did Seventh Form for the first time and I don’t know whether it was the motivation I had to become a pilot, or the fact that the teachers were good, but I started topping my maths and physics classes.”

Tony completed Seventh Form with flying colours, and went back to the Air Force with his improved grades. But a shock was in store. “The Air Force were happy with my grades, but when it came time for my medical, we discovered I had a red-green colour vision deficiency. Well, you can’t be a pilot with a problem like that. I was pretty upset about it, but I realised I just needed to look elsewhere.

“An area I had developed an interest in while I was studying back at school was radiation and medical physics. I had always kept in mind that could be something I might pursue and it’s what I eventually did.”

Tony now has a PhD in physics and works in the medical physics department at Wellington Hospital. He has come a long way since his days as a teenage student. “I know there are people out there now that if I told them I had a PhD, they just wouldn’t believe it. I mean, even my parents were shocked!

“The biggest lesson from this for me is that I now know I can pretty much do anything as long as I apply myself. There was a point in my life that I thought I couldn’t do anything. I thought I was useless at everything. But then I realised that’s not the way it is. I got rid of my self-limiting beliefs. It’s interesting when I reflect back on where I started, then where I am now.”

Updated 2 Sep 2016