To groom better scientists, harness the power of narrative
When I visited my childhood home last Thanksgiving, I came across a time capsule I made in kindergarten. It contained a memo to my future self about where we’d end up in life: Next to a prompt that read “When I grow up, I want to be a [blank],” I’d scrawled “scientist.” So I have the evidence to support the claim that I have, in fact, always wanted to be a scientist.
But I haven’t always known what actually doing science looked like. In grade school, I was a gifted test taker; facts and figures had a way of lodging themselves in my brain long enough to make their way onto an exam page. When I joined my first lab in college, I was ready to put my knowledge into practice. My lab mates were asking exciting questions about heredity and the roles of nature versus nurture. But when it was my turn to conjure up a novel question, I found myself paralyzed. I had mastered the skill of answering test questions — whose pre-cooked and seemingly immutable answers had already been sussed out and scrutinized by the scientists of yesterday — but my beloved textbooks hadn’t prepared me to be the one doing the asking. They hadn’t taught me how to be a scientist.