Younger siblings often emulate their older sibling’s interests, but take their own path

April 25, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar and Alan Zu

Senior Joey Li forges his own path under the shadow of his older brother 2017 alumnus Alex Li.

Class of 2017 alumnus Alex Li was an honors student, a star athlete on the volleyball team and an active member in speech and debate.

He got a perfect 2,400 on the multiple choice part of the 2015 edition of the SAT and a perfect 12 on the SAT essay. He has never received a grade lower than an A, and even as a sophomore at UC Berkeley, Alex has never earned so much as an A- and still maintains high grades compared to his classmates.

Such accomplishments are daunting for young siblings. In his case, his brother, senior Joey Li, sometimes feel like he lives in Alex’s  shadow. Despite being an officer of the RISE and Science clubs and a captain of the Science Bowl team, Joey feels that he hasn’t lived up to or surpassed his brother’s achievements, a sentiment reflected among many younger siblings.

In 2007, a Norwegian study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics confirmed long-held stereotypes: In developed countries, younger siblings tend to underachieve compared to their older brothers and sisters in terms of education and earning. Despite this conclusion, they are often under pressure to succeed at or beyond the level of their older siblings. According to The Washington Post, “Older brothers and sisters can serve as role models to emulate — or role models to rebel against.”

For students with older siblings, the pressure to succeed may be amplified.

“I can’t think of anything I’ve done that Alex hasn’t,” Joey said.

But rather than feeling pressured to live up to his brother’s achievements, Joey said he simply tries to succeed at what he does without his brother in mind.

Still, Joey has ended up following his brother’s interest in computer science and engineering, but he prefers internships at technology companies over the laboratory research that Alex is interested in.

It is not a coincidence that Joey followed a similar path to his brother in pursuing computer science and engineering. In a 2013 study conducted by Brown University psychiatry professor Richard Rende, it was found that an older sibling who smoked was more likely to influence a younger sibling to smoke than if a parent smoked.

For his part, sophomore Enoch Luk said that he has taken on the interests of his brother, senior Nathan Luk, who is an American Invitational Mathematics Examination qualifier and a captain of the badminton team.

“I find that I often follow my brother, in many aspects, even subconsciously: for example, badminton, competitive math, piano and Science Bowl,” Enoch said.

Although Enoch and Nathan are following similar paths, they say their parents do not draw comparisons between them. Rather, they set high expectations for Enoch on an individual level, pressuring him to do well without referencing his brother.

Joey’s parents also don’t pressure him to live up to all of his brother’s achievements. Joey said this is partly because his parents think that Alex is “crazy” for doing all the things he does.

Although many younger siblings end up following in their older sibling’s footsteps, others choose to diverge and pursue different interests. Sophomore Nirmik Tambe has taken a completely different route from his older brother, class of 2015 alumnus Indraneel Tambe.

Indraneel, a student at UC Berkeley, is currently double majoring in theoretical physics and math. For a long time, Indraneel has been focused on STEM-related fields, participating in math olympiads and science competitions in high school.

On the other hand, Nirmik participates in speech and debate, Quiz Bowl and History Bowl. He says that he enjoys humanities activities and competitions as opposed to the STEM competitions his brother enjoyed.

“In terms of our interests, I would definitely be considered the opposite of my brother,” Nirmik said.

At first, though, Nirmik tried to follow in Indraneel’s footsteps, dabbling in various areas of STEM. He attended extracurricular tutoring classes until the beginning of middle school to try out STEM topics such as math.

“Initially, I tried to like STEM because the environment around me was more conducive to pursuing STEM degrees,” Nirmik said. “As a result, I kept trying to get into STEM things but I just didn’t find myself enjoying them that much.”

When his mom introduced him to speech and debate, Nirmik began to develop a fascination for anything related to people or human behavior. When Nirmik demonstrated his deep interest in humanities by actively participating in many extracurricular activities, his parents stopped pressuring him to go into STEM fields.

Nirmik said that his “relative talent” in humanities ultimately convinced his parents to encourage his pursuit of a non-STEM degree. He said he may have pursued a career he was not interested in if he hadn’t demonstrated this talent.

“I feel like if you have more vested interest in some other field, especially if you act on it and actually perform well in that particular field, then it’ll probably be much more conducive to not only a more happy lifestyle, but also a more successful lifestyle,” Nirmik said.

Junior Monica Stratakos also accepts that she is a completely different person from her brother and tries to forge her own path. Class of 2018 alumnus Dean Stratakos was the captain and No. 1 player on the tennis team and interested in competitive math, qualifying for the USA Mathematics Olympiad. He was accepted into Stanford University, where he joined the tennis team.

“I do look up to him, but I’m not trying to be like him in any way,” Monica said.

In some ways, she has taken on her brother’s interest in tennis, being the No. 1 player on the girls’ tennis team. However, she does not share her brother’s interest in STEM — something her parents are OK with.

“They want me to be like him, but they understand that we’re not the same person,” Monica said. “It’s always been high expectations, like ‘Just do your best,’ but not by comparing me to my brother.”

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