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Sigal Tifferet

Senior Lecturer, Ruppin Academic Center

TEDCRED 500+

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How can a talented teenager prepare himself for a scientific career? What do you scientists recommend? (Personal experiences, please).

My son is 16 years old and is very interested in science (Physics, Biology, Math). He would like to hear your recommendations on how to prepare for a scientific career. Is this a critical period to learn things that will be difficult to learn later? Are there non-academic experiences he should try? We are especially interested in personal experiences of all of you scientists out there.

Let me add that my son (Alon) is the one who nudged me a few times to post this question. He studies at a democratic school, meaning that he has full freedom to do whatever he pleases with his time at school. A big portion of his choices are science-related, but he does other things as well (basketball, juggling).

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  • May 24 2011: Hello to Alon and his mom Sigal! I'm an astrophysicist at NASA; let's see if my two cents are useful.

    I agree with Jennifer Marchen's suggestion to remember that many scientists work outside of Universities; professors tend to encourage students toward academic careers because that's what they know best, but there are a wide variety of careers for scientists in industry, government, and academia.

    As far as school goes, a solid grounding in Calculus, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics will serve a person well in a wide variety of Engineering & Science majors. High school doesn't need to be special/elite (I went to a rural high school), but a future scientist should take the hardest science & math courses available. That goes for the first two years of college, too.

    My last bit of advice is to take advantage of summer jobs, internships, and research experiences in college, as many as possible and starting as early as possible, to find out what it's like to DO science, as opposed to learning science. The one is very different from the other! The only way to find out whether you like DOING science is to do science! I know scientists who fell in love with research during a summer project; I know students who fell out of love with science after the same sort of experience. Get in a lab, get a summer internship, and see what it's like!

    Good luck, Alon!

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