Becoming a Scientist

There are many ways to become a scientists, and in my personal experience, the following advice was useful:

ACTIONS

Elementary / Primary School

  • Pay attention as much as you can and be mindful of your work
  • Ask lots of good questions to your parents and teachers
  • Mathematics and science go well together, ask for help if you start to struggle

Middle and High / Secondary School

  • Join a science or math club if you can (or ask your teacher to do some of my Glacier Activities)
  • Take advanced science and math courses if they are available
  • Become a tutor or peer helper, this will also improve your understanding of a subject (I talked to my little brother about things I learned each day)
  • Don’t get discouraged about the things you can’t do well, do your best and find your talents (I was put in a slow reading class and was not so good at sports)
  • Life isn’t all about math and science, make sure you are well-rounded (I took dance and drawing courses my senior year)
  • Become a better writer, especially if someone is willing to edit your scientific writing
  • Think about what kind of a difference you want to make in this world, how will you be able to do this through your career?  Sometimes I think I should have been an engineer to work on alternative energy schemes, but I also love the path I have chosen and I may find ways to help alternative energy development while working as a geologist.

University

  • Say yes to opportunities to teach or work in a lab or do fieldwork (gain experience)
  • Find new talents (I found a different sport and won a bunch of first place trophies, and I continued dancing, the exercise also helped me with my studies)
  • Ask your professors lots of questions, and develop the skills to find these answers on your own (research)
  • Continue to tutor or assist fellow students with scientific concepts
  • Develop your writing, speaking, and presentation skills in your courses

Masters and Ph.D.

  • Most people have imposter syndrome (“I don’t belong here, I’m not smart enough”) you are not alone, find a way to get around that mental block and charge on!
  • Work hard
  • Make connections
  • Focus and persist!! A PhD takes more persistence than intelligence in many cases

Post-doc

  • PUBLISH YOUR RESEARCH – Publish like your job depends on it, because it does
  • Apply for external funding, make a running list of possible funding sources
  • Have good answers to your chalk-talk questions (examples)
  • Gain teaching experience – read books and take courses/workshops to develop your pedagogy, then put this into practice
  • Mentor students – find funding opportunities to hire a research assistant
  • Practice presenting your work – to your department, to the college/university, to colleagues at conferences, put yourself and your work out there and sell it!
  • Ask your mentor and other faculty questions about how they got to where they are – make connections
  • Talk with people about your dream job (they might see something advertised and send it to you)
  • Outreach – I know you don’t have time, no one does, but outreach keeps me sane, it keeps me thinking about how important my research is to others
  • Don’t stay on soft-money too long, find a permanent position – apply for jobs during your post-doc

Teaching

  • Allow for lots of student-to-student interaction
  • Provide collaborative and independent project opportunities
  • Ask for feedback on assignments or at least do a mid-course evaluation (what the student and professor should start doing, keep doing, and stop doing)
  • Be clear about expectations, goals, and how to succeed in the class
  • Keep notes about what worked well and what you would change
  • Be flexible, things usually take longer than you think

CRITICAL THINKING

  • Make observations, notice changes over time (seasons, plant growth, bird migrations)
  • Make descriptions, try drawing and writing about an object with detail (color, size, weight, texture, sound, etc.)
  • Write down questions, think about how natural processes relate to one another and try to answer them with what you understand
  • Read current science-related events (my father reads National Geographic and I think his enthusiasm for the natural world had a big influence on me)
  • What are some of the ‘big picture’ problems that you want to study? Science takes place in small steps, each adding to the base of knowledge, stand on the shoulders of giants and contribute your piece.

OVERALL

  • Work hard, be kind, and share your enthusiasm
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