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Advice to a 10-Year-Old Scientist

Posted On March 6, 2017 by

The author as a junior scientist: writing computer programs, collecting specimens and troubleshooting equipment. Courtesy Sarah Cooley.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating stand out #WomeninConservation all week long. Here, Sarah Cooley, Director of our Ocean Acidification Program, writes a letter to her ten-year-old self. Check back every day for new blogs, and don’t forget to join our Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 8th at 1 pm EST! 

Dear Sarah,

I know you’re really busy with fourth grade right now, but I wanted to say “Hi!” from the future and cheer you on. You’re going to be a scientist, but I won’t tell you anything else. I don’t want to give away any of the journey! It’s a fun one. But, I will tell you that some things you’re doing now are really important for becoming me, your future self.

Keep on playing outside. All that wading in the creek behind the house in your rubber boots and looking at bugs and leaves and shiny rocks is going to leave lasting prints on your brain and your heart. Lots of grown-ups forget, or maybe never knew, how awesome the Earth is. So it’s easy for people to take clean water and air for granted. But the world needs you and your friends to remember what healthy creeks and forests and oceans look like so you can fight for them. You’ve got to stand up for nature, because it’s a lot quieter than money and fame. That’s hard work, so you’ve got to keep doing things the hard way, too. When you cross the creek on that shaky rope bridge your brother built, even though you could land in the water, it’s good practice. That’ll give you a taste for adventure, too, which will take you around the world!

Keep being really curious. Scientists’ favorite questions are probably “Why?” and “How?” Sure, you did that whole unit in science class about the scientific method, learning about the hypothesis, the experiment, the data and the conclusions, but that’s only part of doing real science. Every time you take apart your pen during class to see how it works or you mix paint colors in art to get EXACTLY the right shade of blue, you’re doing science, and here’s why. You’ve got a question you’re trying to answer, or a goal you’re trying to reach, and you’re figuring out how the evidence (or pieces) you’ve got will get you there. Being a scientist is a lot like being a professional puzzle solver. But you get to make the puzzle as well as figure out how to solve it, which is extra fun.

Keep on inventing. That cable car made of index cards, tape and fishing line you and your friends built between your desks to pass notes was pretty awesome. You’ll need that creativity when you’re a scientist, too. Scientists do a lot of inventing, and it’s important to have a can-do attitude when you’re in a jam. That’s true in life as well as in science—it’ll help you change a tire as well as fix a complicated piece of science equipment.

Keep on being a bookworm. You’ll know a little about a lot of things and you’ll know how to track down more information in a hurry. You’ll be able to talk to almost anyone a little bit about anything (except, maybe, football. You’ll never understand football). Having a lot of random knowledge can also help you solve puzzles and invent things, too, because you can borrow ideas from other unrelated topics.  Plus, when you’re me and grown up with a real job, you’ll look back with envy on those long summer days you spent sprawled on the porch glued to a book. So, enjoy!

Keep on writing to your pen pals in Bermuda and Hawaii. It’s really important to understand people different from you. Not everyone you’ll meet is a scientist. They might not even like science! But, if they’re a human being, you’ve got a lot in common with them. You’ve got to be able understand what makes different people tick, and simply talking to them is a great way to find out. Finding things in common is the ticket to working together, and scientists have to work with all sorts of people every day. I know you’re kind of scared of meeting new people and talking to them, but don’t be. Whenever you are in a new situation and really nervous, remember that pretty much everyone else in the room feels the same way. Just screw up your courage and say “Hi,” and you might make a new friend. I promise, you’ll make a bunch of them as you work to become a scientist, and they’ll stick with you through thick and thin.

Last—Keep up the good work, kiddo! Everyone in the future is pulling for you. We need more girls like you in science! You can make a big difference.

Love,

Your future self