• Question: How did you become a scientist, i would love to become one ! :)

    Asked by laszlooo to Meeks, Pete, Stephen, Steve, Tom on 17 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Stephen Curry

      Stephen Curry answered on 13 Jun 2010:

      All the way through my Physics degree at Imperial College, even though I really enjoyed the course and loved the experimental work, I never really thought of myself as the sort of person that would go on to do research!

      But I couldn’t think of anything else that I’d rather do, so I applied for the chance to study for a PhD at a number of different universities. In the end I decided to stay at Imperial since they had what seemed to me the most interesting project: I spent 3 years investigating how general anaesthetics work. Or at least, testing the theory that they work by sticking to proteins in the brain (rather than disrupting the structure of nerve cell membranes).

      The PhD was great fun but at the end of it I was actually still a bit unsure about continuing in science and got a job as a management trainee with the NHS. I thought that would be a worthwhile thing to do. But I discovered that I wasn’t much good at the job (too much admin and too many meetings) and I hated it!

      After 6 months I applied for jobs back in science and got one as a research assistant at the Institute for Animal Health (IAH). There I learned new techniques – how to work out the structures of viruses using X-ray crystallography. After three years at the IAH I went to the USA for 2 years to study a different virus, poliovirus.

      While I was in the US, I applied for a ‘permanent’ job back at Imperial College (though I was initially very reluctant to return to the place where I’d been a student). This meant becoming a lecturer who has to teach but the job also gives you the time and facilities (lab space) to start your own group. So I set up shop there in 1995 and have been there ever since.

      So my entry into science was a bit round-about. I’m sure the others have different stories to tell!

    • Photo: Tom Hartley

      Tom Hartley answered on 13 Jun 2010:

      Hi laslooo,

      I am glad you’d like to be a scientist. To work as a scientist, you are almost certainly going to need a degree in a science subject. To get to this point, you will need to study one or more science subjects (and/or maths) at A-level, and to make this possible, you will probably need (if you are in England) to do double- or triple-award science at GCSE.

      I can tell you a bit more about how I got to be a scientist, but it could be a long answer, so I’ll keep it fairly short for now. The most important factor for me was that I enjoyed science and found it really interesting. This meant that all the way through school my classes didn’t feel like hard work. The fun really started when I got the chance to run my own experiments; learning about what other people have done, or what they think is all very well, but it is not really science. Science is about finding out new things. I’d had a chance at A-level to design my own simple experiment (it was on “tuning” –i.e., matching the frequencies of different tones), but at degree level I did a much bigger project (again it had to do with hearing, this time investigating whether what we’re listening to makes a difference to how well we can locate the sound in space). By the end of my degree I was ready to be a scientist, and I guess I could have gone into all sorts of scientific careers – I followed an academic path, doing a PhD and I have worked as a scientist ever since, although I now do a fair amount of teaching as well.

    • Photo: Marieke Navin

      Marieke Navin answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      Hey, brilliant to hear you’d like to be a scientist!

      The main thing is to study science at school. I did separate science GSCEs, science and maths A levels. Then I did Physics and Astronomy at University. I chose this because I loved astronomy and i was sooo lucky to get to study it for 4 years! Then I did a PhD in particle physics.

      It’s important to do something that you love, otherwise you wouldn’t be motivated enough to do the hard work and exams!

    • Photo: Steve Roser

      Steve Roser answered on 14 Jun 2010:

      I had a fairly normal route to becoming a scientist – enthusiasm and A levels at school, followed by a degree in chemistry. Brief hiatus as I tried to find out what I REALLY wanted to do, involving being a cook, ski instructor and buddhist..then back again for a PhD which is what I REALLY wanted after all , a round of post doc positions, and finally a permanent job. Thats fairly normal I think (apart from the Buddhist bit)

    • Photo: Pete Edwards

      Pete Edwards answered on 17 Jun 2010:

      Lots of studying and exam taking!
      This may sound like hard work, but if you really love the stuff you are learning then it’s not so bad. Mind you I’m still not keen on the exams.
      Seriously I think if you really want to learn about things then the work is great and it is worth the effort.