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1 February 2012

How to build a scientist

Anyone can have a career in science. Here are some tips to hone science skills for students of every age and stage. 

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Illustration by Liz Vernon.Illustration by Liz Vernon.

Exposing students to creative problem solving, how to think scientifically, and the rush of independence when they solve a problem can be a catalyst for a fruitful career in the sciences. Rmember that teachers, family members and mentors who convey excitement for science and support and encouragement for scientific paths are a powerful tool across all ages and stages. Explore these tips for budding experimentalists. 

Pre-School and Early Elementary School StudentsApple and schoolbooks

  • Grow Curiosity
  • Encourage Observation
  • Instill a Love of nature

Young children can learn about science through play. Something as simple as organizing and classifying toys, candy, or household objects can be a way to develop early science skills. Even very young children can think scientifically. With your child or student, pay attention to the world around you. Encourage children to think like a scientist and use all of their senses to explore everything from insects, the color of the sky, phases of the moon, airplanes overhead. Ask questions like What do you see? What do you hear? How do the items inside your house work? Do a nature-based scavenger hunt to help explore the world around you. 

Late Elementary to Early Middle School StudentsGlobe

  • Introduce experimentalism
  • Develop Critical thinking skills 
  • Establish Math skills
  • Start communicating science skills

As kids grow, look for ways to expose them to higher-order critical thinking skills and an understanding of processes. Try answering their questions with a question like What do you think it is? What makes you think so? or How could we find out together? Encourage experimentation with questions like What would happen if... or What if we tried...   Science fair projects, robotics clubs, science-directed summer camps, tinkering with computers and mechanical assemblies, and even cooking can help kids understand experimentation and the processes that result in a whole. Integrate communications skills into science activities using photos, hand-drawn pictures, and writing. 

Late Middle to Early High school studentsComputer

  • Cultivate Creative problem solving
  • Introduce Career ambition and role models
  • Narrower areas of interest
  • High lever math & science courses

The late middle school and early high school stage is a great time for students to explore their interests and discover new ones. More advanced hands-on science exploration will serve students in this age range. Have they had the opportunity to meet a scientist and learn what real-life science jobs are like? Look for ways for students to learn about the many different science careers that are available to them - both inside labs and beyond. Advanced math and science courses, internships, summer programs, and even a part-time job can help them refine their skills and interests. Help them keep their career options open by taking courses in chemistry, physics and calculus: Remember today's 14-year-old aspiring physician could be tomorrow's great software developer!

Late High School & CollegeMonitor

  • Lab experience
  • Thinking independently
  • Narrowing field of study

Advanced high school and college students who are interested in science can keep diving deeper into core science principles and those specific skills in their field of interest. Exposure to hands-on experiments within a laboratory environment and to a higher-order understanding of both the experimental process and the concepts behind it are key during this phase of study. Students may start to specialize at this stage and focus on specific classes that will serve their path of greatest interest. Undergraduate research opportunities, summer internships and research experiences for undergraduate programs are great options to continue developing your science skills and begin networking with possible future advisors or collaborators. 

Graduate school and beyondTelescope

  • Meeting collaborators
  • Research questions
  • Project ownership

In graduate school, students come into their own as researchers, pursuing independent projects or technology development under the supervision of an advisor. Generally, this is when specialization on a specific sub-field or topic is required. A good advisor, along with other mentors, can help a student select a research question they are passionate about and can help to guide the course of the student's career.  Students often have their first poster presentations or publications at this stage. Consider a post-doctoral program to get additional training in the field you've selected or to help gain entry to the job market. Continue attending scientific conferences and reading and publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals to stay up-to-date on the biggest discoveries and emerging trends in your field. 

Does the MagLab offer programs to help?

Of course! The MagLab'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 MagLab opens its doors to welcome the curious public to an Open House event. Featuring dozens of mind-blowing demonstrations and the chance to interact directly with the physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers who conduct research here, it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to explore the fun of science. It's truly a great science experience for visitors of all ages.  

Open HouseExploring science at the MagLab's Open House.

For elementary-schoolers

MagLab staff will send classroom kits to your class or is happy to visit your school in person or virtually for elementary school classroom outreachTours for students are also available for 5th grade classes and up.

For middle-schoolers

The MagLab has a number of programs for middle-schoolers, including summer campsSciGirls is a summer camp program aimed at inspiring middle school girls to explore science. MagLab Camp TESLA, also for middle-schoolers, is a one week program for both boys and girls. Middle-school mentorship is a semester-long program that pairs young students from local middle schools with working scientists for a scientific project. Classroom outreach and field trips/lab tours are also available for this age group.

For high-schoolers

High-school externship program offers the opportunity to participate directly in lab research with working scientists. 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 MagLab's Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program is a six-week residential program designed to provide real-world lab experience to educators. And all teachers (and students alike) are invited to explore the FREE demonstrations, lesson plans, activities, games and more on the MagLab's Magnet Academy. 


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