10 Steps to a Scientific Career
A quick guide for everyone - including minorities and women in STEM
1. Take challenging math and science classes in high school
This means that you take the highest level of class you can handle, and really prioritize understanding the material. Remember that learning and understanding are different. You can even take classes at a local community college over the summer. This background knowledge will aid you well in the future. Don’t forget to throw in fun math and science electives that you think you would enjoy!
2. Consider trying extracurricular activities in science during high school
This is where you can really express yourself as a STEM student. Join your school’s chemistry club or participate in math contests. You can even create your own passion project or volunteer to teach young children math and science. If not, you could instead choose to volunteer at a lab in your area or participate in pre-college summer programs. All of these things will build your attachment to these fields. For more ideas regarding extracurricular activities, refer to our resource list here!
3. Find scientific mentors to guide your career trajectory early on
This is very important. Find a STEM professional that you can meet face to face. This person can advise you on the do’s and don'ts when it comes to a STEM career and even point you to exciting opportunities. All successful scientists will tell you that finding a good mentor was a huge part of how they got there. No matter if you are in middle school, high school, or beyond, a mentor in the field you’re interested in can help you advance your career interests.
4. Explore different science areas during the beginning of college
Freshmen year of college is the time to dip your toe into various scientific disciplines whether it be chemistry, physics, etc. Go to talks held by different departments and participate in clubs focused on these fields. Don’t worry if your field of interest changes after this, that is supposed to happen. This real-life experience will really help you decide what you want to dedicate your time to studying.
5. Pursue a college degree in whatever field of science you prefer
Go and get that degree. Go in for office hours with your professor. Go off campus to shadow people in scientific jobs. Use your undergraduate phase to really personalize your STEM journey and make the most of your opportunities. Educate yourself in your field of interest as wholeheartedly as possible, and make sure that you are pursuing a career that will make every day exciting and fulfilling.
6. Search for internship or lab research opportunities in college
Many STEM companies or universities are interested in hiring undergraduates for summer internships. Search for some at your college, colleges in your hometown, or ask your peers and mentors if they know of any opportunities. These experiences will boost your work experience profile, and help you understand how a career in your field would work. While engaging in these opportunities, keep your end goal in mind and contribute to the best of your ability. It’ll be worth it!
7. Possibly go on to graduate school
If you hope to attain a job requiring a Master’s degree or higher, you’ll need to go to graduate school. Graduate school applications are typically due in the fall of the year prior to your desired starting year, so be sure to plan accordingly and broaden your horizons in higher education. The work will become tougher, but you’ll really become an expert in the field that you chose. Graduate studies in many STEM fields provide tuition waivers and a stipend, so be sure to ask about the financial side when you’re applying. It never hurts to also be on the lookout for scholarships or grants to reduce financial burdens.
8. Possibly join a post-doctoral program in your desired specialty
If you really want to achieve mastery in your STEM field of choice, this is the next step. Here, you may already start working in a lab of some sort, and conducting original research. You will have a mentor here to assist you. This is where you will find your niche within your field, and will decide where to go next.
9. Look for full time employment
This is the exciting step! The job search is hard for everyone. Just remember to have a good understanding of what kind of job you want. Consider completing an individual development plan (ScienceCareers has an online version: https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/) to help learn about your interests and values and potential career options. Know how long you want to work, what environment you want to work in, etc. Apply for various jobs, and see which one suits you.
10. Ask questions and keep exploring
Once you get into a rewarding job position, the journey isn’t over. The amazing thing about STEM is that you are always learning, so use your previous education to help progress human knowledge forward. Teach others about the benefits of STEM careers, and mentor the next generation. Good luck!
The specific requirements for scientific paths differ - refer to the collection on the page under STEM Careers called "Career Profiles" to find out more about specific career options!