Preparation

Am I smart enough to be a scientist?

Scientist come from all walks of life and bring a variety of skills to their field. There is no standard against which you can measure yourself. However, what scientists do exhibit from early on in their academic careers is the love of discovery, the curiosity of their environment and the desire to be inquisitive. If you share those characteristics, then you’re already headed in the right direction.

What are some of the skills I will need to be a successful scientist?

Although you may think that acing your math and science exams is all that will determine your success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, it couldn't be further from the truth. While many students who do well in STEM areas are naturally proficient in math and science, there are several other factors that determine success.

First, you must have a passion for the investigative process and love asking questions. You must be dedicated to the area you are interested in because you will spend a lot of time studying. Having great teachers who will help nurture you and finding additional resources either on your high school or college campus to support you are helpful, too. If you begin with these basics, it will become easier to build upon them to make you more successful as a scientist.

Second, contrary to popular thought, scientists don't just sit in a room with test tubes and a microscope any longer. More and more they are required to work on teams, present their work publicly, and interact with people who are not scientists or even not particularly interested in science. So, in addition to being great with numbers and the periodic table, you must also have solid problem-solving, people and teamwork skills. These are great skills to develop in high school and as an undergraduate. Learn to identify your strengths and work on your weaknesses when you find yourself working in a team to conduct research in your biology class or an experiment in your chemistry lab.

Third, you will need to master the art of communication — to write and speak effectively — if you are to present your work at science fairs or conferences to other scientists and to relay your ideas and be able to explain your research to those who are not scientists. In college especially you must learn to write papers to effectively convey the point of your research or to verbally defend your ideas.