Author: Jeslyn Guo
If you are like me, maybe you have always known that you were interested in science, technology, engineering, or math related fields. Maybe you have become recently intrigued by how technology works after hearing about a computer science class or you want to learn more about engineering after seeing a cool project other students did. Regardless of where your interests in STEM came from, you might be wondering: Ok, but what now?
In high school, it is challenging to balance academics and extracurriculars and still find time to pursue your interests. As a senior in high school, I cannot pretend to know the best way to navigate these challenges, but I am here to share some of the tips and suggestions I have picked up over my four years about pursuing an interest in STEM.
To begin, one of the best ways to identify your interests (and this goes for any subject) is through coursework. Taking advantage of the classes that are offered or that you have to take will allow you to explore an interest while completing required academic work. For example, this may look like delving deep into a biology lab and asking your teacher extended questions about the topic. Additionally, if you are particularly interested in a subject that is not offered at school, there are a multitude of resources online and at local community colleges that will allow you to engage while still getting in school credit. Not only will maximizing the classroom resources available to you help identify what you are interested in, but you can also build great relationships with your teachers and mentors along the way.
If you have narrowed down your focus to an individual topic and are looking for ways to further explore this, joining clubs is a fantastic opportunity. As clubs are often student run organizations, you can engage with peers who are genuinely interested in pursuing a subject. Additionally, joining clubs early on will allow you to demonstrate commitment to a subject and you may one day take on a leadership role in these clubs too. If your school does not offer a club in a subject you like, start your own! This seems daunting at first, but this is a great way for you to demonstrate leadership skills while being in full control of the topics you look at. There is no topic too particular to explore in a club setting; I have seen common clubs such as robotics and science teams to more “uncommon” clubs such as medical volunteering and rocketry.
While on the topic of clubs, competitions are a similar way to engage in a topic you are interested in. You may individually participate in a competition and spend your free time creating a project or developing research, or you may engage with a small team. It is a great idea to create a club with a focus of participating in a competition as well, as you can create a team that shares a common interest and are motivated to actively participate! For example, you may create an American Computer Science League club at your school which works over the school year to participate in the ACSL Competition.
Another topic I want to discuss is hands-on experience in your field of interest. Hands-on experience can range from interning, volunteering, shadowing a professional, or research. A great way to identify potential opportunities is to talk to the adults in your life and see if parents, relatives, or teachers know any professionals in a field you are interested in. You can then reach out to the individual and introduce your interests and what you are hoping to gain from contacting them. This could look like asking for an internship opportunity, asking to shadow them, asking to be a part of research, etc. If you are interested in a topic but struggling to find people you can reach out to, a simple search online for professors at local universities is also a great way to identify connections. Do not be afraid if you reach out to someone and get no response, just keep trying! Not hearing back has nothing to do with you or your ability; someone might not have time to respond, or they are simply not looking to take students in their project, etc. I know a girl who was interested in pursuing a topic through an internship and reached out to 20 professionals before she got a response – but one is all it takes! There are also a multitude of scholarships available that require simple online applications, but can result in you receiving incredible hands-on experience.
Finally, if you are passionate about something, create your own opportunities! If you like to code, you could create a website or program a meaningful project. Make your own portfolio, blog, research paper, etc. There is no topic too big or too small for you to pursue. Opportunities will rarely present themselves to you unless you go out and seek them!
If you are interested in a topic, it is important that you explore this interest and continue to demonstrate your passion outside of the classroom. If you want to learn more starting today, check out the resources on our website. Do not be afraid to try a new topic, create a new club or team, or reach out to a teacher to learn more about a subject. Most times, the people in your community will be more than willing to help you develop your passions.