In today's world of unlimited possibilities, it's pretty darn hard to know what you want to do when you 'grow up'. But one thing's clear - if you want to change the world, there are few careers that offer a better opportunity to do just that than those in science, technology, engineering, and maths, also known as STEM.
Every single day, new breakthroughs are happening in space, medicine, artificial intelligence, technology… although I guess if you're reading this site we probably don't need to tell you how awesome science is. Still, it's hard to know how to go from high school enthusiast to the person making the discoveries and creating the game-changing technology. So we've teamed up with Florida Polytechnic University, the state's only university dedicated to STEM subjects, to put together the best advice for anyone interested in a career in science or engineering.
You can find out more on their new site, STEM Study, which is set up to help high school students get into their perfect science or engineering degree, with advice on everything from which courses you need to take before you apply to how to pay for college. Read on and dream big.
1. Be curious
There aren't many prerequisites for life as a scientist or engineer – regardless of your skillset or interests, there's going to be a field that's right for you. But one thing that you'll need for success no matter what you end up doing is a desire to learn more about the world, and find answers to questions that currently seem unanswerable. As Einstein once said: "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."
2. Figure out what you're passionate about
Don't just get into medical research because you think you should be helping people, or limit yourself to an engineering career because you want to make a lot of money – one thing all scientists will tell you is that you're going to face a lot of hard work, long hours, and frustrating setbacks throughout your career, so you need to find something you're passionate about. Take the STEM Study quiz to find out which field your interest line up with.
3. Don't limit yourself to jobs that exist now
By the time you graduate, there are going to be entire new fields and industries to get excited about. Just imagine trying to explain to your parents when they were in college what an app developer was. That's the beauty of science and engineering – it's always changing. Check out courses in nanotechnology and big data, and stay up to date with what's happening in the world and the latest research breakthroughs to keep inspired about your potential.
4. Learn to laugh at yourself
As for the point above, the course of science and engineering rarely runs smoothly. Sure, research is pretty serious stuff, but we know first-hand that a sense of humour is critical. If you can't laugh about it along the way, you will probably end up going insane. See #overlyhonestmethods if you don't believe us.
5. Have a plan
Passion is (unfortunately) only a small part of success. Many of the best STEM universities are extremely competitive with the high school graduates they accept. Grades aren't everything (Bill Gates failed some of his exams) but you do need to make sure you tick as many boxes as possible, like prerequisites, extracurricular activities, essay requirements… and you'll also need to work out how you're going to pay for everything. You can use the checklists on the STEM study site or free app (iOS) to start planning from your freshman year.
6. Figure out what type of work you like to do
I spent three years studying zoology and molecular biology just to get into my graduate program and realise that I hated working in a lab. It's not just important to figure out what you're passionate about, you also need to know what type of work you enjoy doing day after day after day. Some people love the precision and methodology of lab work, while other people prefer to be out in the field. It doesn't matter how you like to work - there are plenty of ways to be involved in every kind of science and engineering field - just don't make the same mistake I did and wait until after your degree to find out.
7. Develop IRL skills
Being book smart is great, but picking up some of the skills you'll need to use in your career early on is hugely beneficial (if only to help you figure out number 5). Find a way to develop these while having fun and making friends at the same time – think hackathons, robotics, star-gazing clubs, citizen science projects, etc.
8. Read a lot
Go beyond the class reading list and get inspired by some of the great thinkers of our time. And yes, science-fiction counts. "Start reading material outside of class in order to improve your reading and writing skills," suggests the STEM Study app (iOS). If you're looking for a good place to start, here are the 8 books Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks everyone should read.
9. Build up a profile
We hate to say it, but personal brand really is everything these days. Most of the best scientists also have active Twitter, blogs, and Facebook profiles (case in point: physicist Lawrence Krauss just broke a story on gravitational waves with a single tweet), and there's no harm in starting early. You don't need to be too ambitious, just try to be semi-professional and share articles you find interesting on your topic(s) of interest whenever you come across them. Future you will thank you for it.
10. Don't just study science
Yes, studying chemistry is important if you want to be a chemist. But so is mathematics, and even computer programming in today's world of big data. And don't forget that you're going to need to know how to write research papers for whichever field you're in, so English is important too. You can use the STEM Study app (iOS) to make sure you've ticked off all the prerequisites.
Good luck, future world-changers. We can't wait to see what you do next.
This article was sponsored by Florida Polytechnic University. Find out more about their STEM Study initiative and download the free app (iOS) here to get a head start in your science or engineering career.