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How to Begin A Scientific Career

Oct 30, 2007
If your inclination is towards a scientific career, naturally the place to begin building your future is in the place where you are right now.

If you are in junior or senior high school, for instance, you can take a second look at the courses you plan to schedule. If you have not included all the mathematics and science you can fit in, perhaps there is still time to do so. If it seems that you have passed the point of no return for some of these, possibly you can take them in concentrated form at summer sessions. The study of foreign languages is also valuable, for you may wish to read scientific magazines and books that have not been translated into English.

You can be alert to scientific meetings, lectures, science fairs, demonstrations, tours, seminars, congresses, clubs and all the other opportunities that may exist in your community.

When you join such activities, you also may find opportunities to talk to scientists and teachers who are working in the fields that interest you most. Such personal contacts with working scientists will give you a sort of three-dimensional feeling about science and scientists that would be difficult to get in any other way.

In all your curriculum planning, reading and leisure science activities you should guard against overly narrow specialization. So much of modern science crosses the lines between scientific disciplines that you will want to have some background in several. A broad sampling of fields will give you a better base for choosing your eventual career, too, for even college and graduate students find their interests and perspective changing as they penetrate more deeply into various specialties.

To all of this you will want to add both breadth and depth in the humanities in order to be a fully developed individual with balanced insight and appreciation.

If you need or want a scholarship to help you go to college, you will want to start your planning early, discussing your ideas and hopes with your family and your high school guidance counselor.

If your school does not have a guidance counselor, the school library and the public library may have collections of college catalogs and scholarship leaflets. When you have narrowed your possible choice to, say, five or six colleges, write to their admission offices for further information.

Then you can make good use of your summer vacations. Every year there are more student jobs available in science and new chances for study and experience in advanced science courses.

With support from the National Science Foundation, each summer several thousand students in all parts of the country are given training that will help them to decide on college programs and career plans. The Foundation supports between 100 and 200 secondary school programs for students of high ability, offering a variety of programs.

They include training in astronomy and space science at the American Museum-Hayden Planetarium; advanced botany at the New York Botanic Garden; instruction in atmospheric science given by the American Meteorological Society; demonstrations, experiments, research and reports in various fields under the supervision of university faculties and visiting scientists; and many other unique courses and workshops.

Hundreds of promising science students learn adult science in summer jobs in the laboratories of universities, industries and government agencies. Every summer more employers are offering such valuable experience to teenagers.

If you are fortunate enough to get one of these jobs, you will find that you are given some real work to do instead of being confined simply to test tube washing and waste basket emptying. However, you will want to apply early (Christmas vacation might not be too soon to start), and to present all the recommendations, honors and other evidences of your ability in science that you have accumulated.

The experience gained in such jobs is invaluable, whether you receive token payment or none at all. If, however, a modest salary happens to go along with the training, that is extra icing on the cake.

All these ideas will get you off on the right foot for a rewarding career in science.
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