How do you become a scientist?

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Offline thedoc

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How do you become a scientist?
« on: 17/01/2014 10:30:01 »
Christopher P. Sweezey asked the Naked Scientists:
I know you're scientists, but how do you become a fellow "-ist"? I'd like to become a herpetologist, or maybe a robotics engineer. What college courses do you take?

(By the way, I'm only 13-years-old!)

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 17/01/2014 10:30:01 by _system »


Offline CliffordK

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Re: How do you become a scientist?
« Reply #1 on: 17/01/2014 19:48:18 »
As you can imagine, colleges and educational systems vary by country.

In the USA, people tend to get a general education through high school, then a four-year college typically provides a liberal arts education in which only about 1/4 of one's classes are actually in one's major.  And, it is not uncommon for students to change majors.

In Italy, for example, students must decide the which high school such as a scientific high school vs a classics high school.  Then, once in college, they enter a department in which essentially all the coursework is controlled by their department. 

Anyway, it sounds like you would be interested in either a biology or a computer science major, or perhaps a double-major (not uncommon in the USA).  If you need further studies, then you may choose graduate studies (Masters or PhD) in your specialty. 

As far as what you can do in high school.  I would encourage getting as much math as you can.  Science is up to you as it will be covered again in college, but take what is available. 

In the USA, we have  a program called Advanced Placement (AP) Classes in which high school students can get college credit.  A good idea in theory.  My high school offered 3 AP courses, Math, American History, and English which I took.  However, the program I went to in college required a year of English, and Global history, making my history and English courses in high school redundant.  The math was good and bumped me directly into 2nd year calculus in college, although there are two AP calculus exams.  My class was oriented towards the 2 term exam, but I took the 3 term exam and always felt that I missed out on some of the third term calculus.

Anyway, I directly benefited from the AP calculus.  The other classes, not so much.  However, it put me essentially 1 year ahead of my fellow students in total college credits.  It meant that registration was always easy as I was always at the top of the list for registering for classes.  Very few classes were filled up before my registration.

If you have a college in mind, it doesn't hurt to start finding out about their programs and coursework.  Perhaps another more obscure course I benefited from in high school was that my college program required two years of a foreign language (the requirement has since been relaxed, I think).  Anyway, I took a summer crash course of Italian at the local university between my Freshman and Sophomore years in HS.  It was INTENSE.  In a sense, German or Spanish might have been a better choice, but there is something special about Italian.  Anyway, 4 years later when I discovered that I needed 2 years of a foreign language, the previous coursework put me a year ahead.  Fortunately there was a complete review of grammar during the second year classes.