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Sigal Tifferet

Senior Lecturer, Ruppin Academic Center


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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 16 2011: I am a teacher at a non-traditional public school that sees many self motivated students. I am also a curriculum writer for a new biology program that hopes to get international use (just added a school in Brazil). At 16 there is still plenty of time to explore all sorts of options like the ones mentioned in other postings, but ultimately a good science career depends on specialization. It is good that he is exploring and the school you describe sounds fantastic (would love to read more) because it will allow him to discover where he would like to focus.

    At some point he will have to decide on a college program. My most successful past students are the ones that decided early what direction they were going to take and specifically went after a certain college program. They wound up being part of research teams or working on cutting edge projects a couple of years into post secondary.

    In direct answer to your questions: Is this a critical period to learn things that will be difficult to learn later? Just get a strong traditional science knowledge base (physics, chem, bio, in that order please) so there is a good starting point to learn the more complex stuff later; Are there non-academic experiences he should try? Science is art, artistic expression and thinking expands his science ability, his ability to see more than one solution to a problem, his ability to ask unusual questions, keep up with the juggling!

    Good luck with your education Alon, sounds like you have a great start and a mom who's lookin out for you.
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      May 18 2011: Alon: Thank you for letting me know about the order of importance of the science areas, or did you mean a chronological order?
      Sigal: Very nice answer, thanks!

      Let me tell you a bit more about Alon's school. It is indeed very special. It is called the Democratic School in Hedera http://www.democratics.org.il/site/index.asp?depart_id=125189&lat=en.

      The school has about 400 children ages 4-18. They are organized in three age groups: 4-8, 9-13, 14-18. They have to come to school every day as is the law in Israel, but in that time period they are free to do whatever interests them, in accordance with the state and school laws (you can't hit anyone...)
      This allows a very wide range of possibilities. Some kids invest most of their time playing soccer, others play with their friends, and others spend most of their time studying. Most find a mixture that fits their needs and age.

      The school is a humanistic school. Every person has the right for honor and self actualization. There is no difference between the students and the teachers in their rights. The school is governed by committees which are elected at the beginning of each year and comprise students, teachers and parents. Committees include: Trips, disciplinary, curriculum, events, student acceptance, teacher evaluation, budget, sports, music, library. Important questions are decided on in the Parliament which is open to all kids, parents and teachers, and each has one voice.

      Any disciplinary problem is brought to the committee which judges if the person is to blame, and the punishment they deserve, if any. kids can bring a teacher to the committee, if they think she misbehaved. Judges sit in groups of 3, and change. They are mostly kids, as is with most committees.

      Let me know if you have any questions, I find this a fascinating topic...
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        May 24 2011: Hi Alon and Sigal,
        Sorry it took so long to respond. I meant chronologically... Physics is the basis of chemistry and biology is the chemistry of life. Learning biology before the others, as an example, would be like building a house and putting up the roof before pouring the foundation. In biology you would have no idea why DNA is double helix, or the important chemical interactions would have no context and it would seem more unbelievable, vague.

        Love your description of the school. As a teacher it is a little scary to let go of that much control, but in reality students are only going to learn what they want to anyway so let them discover why and what they need to learn.

        My motto... Education is not filling a bucket, it is lighting a fire.

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