1 February 2012

How to build a scientist

From elementary school to the laboratory, we review how you can attain a career in science.

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Illustration by Liz Vernon.Illustration by Liz Vernon.

It could be argued that scientists are born, not made (a little natural curiosity goes a long way), but exposing young students to creative problem solving, thinking scientifically, and the rush of independence when they solve a problem can be catalysts for a fruitful career in the sciences. Here, we offer a recipe for budding experimentalists.

Elementary schoolApple and schoolbooks

  • Curiosity
  • Observation
  • Love of nature

It's important, even for very young children, to be exposed to thinking scientifically. With your child or student, pay attention to the world around you: insects, phases of the moon, airplanes overhead. What do you see? What do you hear? How do the items inside your house work?

Middle schoolGlobe

  • Experimentalism
  • Critical thinking
  • Math skills

As kids progress to middle school, it's important to expose them to higher-order critical thinking and an understanding of processes. Science fair projects, science-directed summer camps, tinkering with computers and mechanical assemblies, and even cooking help kids to understand experimentation and the processes that result in a whole.

High schoolComputer

  • Creative problem solving
  • Career ambition
  • Narrower areas of interest
  • High lever math & science courses

High school is a great time for students to explore their interests and discover new ones. Advanced math and science courses, internships, summer programs, and even a part-time job can help them refine their interests. It's important to keep variety in the mix as well as keep your career options open by taking courses in chemistry, physics and calculus: A 14-year-old aspiring physician could be tomorrow's great software developer!


  • Lab experience
  • Thinking independently
  • Narrowing field of study

In college, students interested in science dive deep into the principles that power their field of interest. Exposure to a laboratory environment and to a higher-order understanding of both the experimental process and the concepts behind it are key during

Graduate schoolTelescope

  • Meeting collaborators
  • Mentorship
  • Project ownership

In graduate school, students come into their own as researchers, pursuing independent projects with the supervision of an advisor. A good advisor, along with other mentors, can help a student find a research question he or she is passionate about and can help to guide the course of a student's career.

But how do I build my own scientist?

The Magnet Lab's Center for Integrating Research and Learning (CIRL) offers opportunities for young people at all stages of their education to engage with science.

For everyone

Every February, the Magnet Lab throws open its doors to welcome the curious public to its Open House. The event offers dozens of mind-blowing demonstrations and the chance to interact directly with the physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers who conduct research here. It's great for ages 5 to 105.

Open HouseExploring science at the MagLab's Open House.

For elementary-schoolers

Doing Science Together, a program held at the Tallahassee Barnes and Noble on the third Thursday of each month, offers kids a chance to conduct hands-on scientific investigation in a relaxed environment. MagLab staff can visit your school for elementary school classroom outreach, focusing on teaching kids to think scientifically, and tours for students are available here at the Magnet Lab for 5th grade classes and up.

For middle-schoolers

SciGirls is a jointly operated, two-week summer camp program aimed at inspiring middle school girls to explore science. MagLab Summer Camp, also for middle-schoolers, is a one week program for both boys and girls. Middle-school mentorship pairs young students from local middle schools with working scientists for a semester-long project. Classroom outreach and lab tours are also available for this age group.

For high-schoolers

High-school internships offer the opportunity to participate directly in lab research with working scientists. Internships are available every semester and students can participate more than once. Students may also be interested in attending Science Café to keep up to date with current topics in science. Classroom outreach and lab tours are also available for interested students.

For college students

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program offers opportunities for undergraduates from around the country to spend their summer conducting meaningful, eight-week research in physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, geochemistry and materials science.

For teachers

Are you responsible for introducing young minds to thinking scientifically about their world? The Magnet Lab's Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program is a six-week residential program designed to provide real-world lab experience to educators.

This story was originally published in Issue 8 of flux magazine, a discontinued publication of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.