10 Traits of a Rocket Girl

There are 10 traits that Rocket Girls must have to launch them in a scientific career, whichever field, such as biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy and engineering.

Trait #1 - Curious

The first of these traits is curiosity. Rocket Girls must be curious. Science is all about figuring things out. The curious mind is always questioning phenomena around it. So much of what we teach our science students are answers. What we need to teach them is how to question.

Leonard Susskind, known as the Father of String Theory explained to me that

“The object of a scientist is to follow his curiosity and figure out how and why things work, how and why the world works whether it's physics or biology, or [the other] sciences; indulging your curiosity.”

What do you want to know? Reengage with your curious mind. 

Trait #2 - Learner

The second trait a Rocket Girl must have is being a learner. Rocket Girls are learners; life-long learners. And learning takes many forms besides school. In my interviews with scientists, many of whom are Nobel prize recipients, I discovered that they read voraciously. Not just books about science. But books about everything. I question whether our modern addiction to electronics and social media is infringing on our love of books. Though I imagine, readers will always be readers, regardless of the medium.

Rocket Girls also learn by doing.

Robert Weinberg, well-known in the scientific community, for his work in identifying the genetic basis of cancer, explained the connection between his hands-on play as a child and the work he does now:

“I think one of the most useful experiences in my childhood was taking apart things and putting them back together, and building electric train sets. Things like that because that fascinated me in terms of understanding how complicated systems were put together form different working parts, which is ultimately what a molecular biologist figures out albeit on a different scale.”

Though many girls don’t identify with remote control cars and electric train sets, this is just one avenue of entry into science and math. Margaret Wertheim, science writer and founder of the Institute of Figuring in Los Angeles, has shown us that hands-on expressions of science and math are not limited to traditional boy-toys. Take for instance her international project, the Crochet Coral Reef, in which women crochet hyperbolic surfaces to simulate the forms that corals, sponges and kelp take.

Trait #3 - Observer

Being observant is the third trait of a Rocket Girl scientist. A precursor to questioning is observing the world around you. My son, when he was only 3, asked me, getting out of the car, is that the parallax effect? What are you talking about, I asked him. That the moon stays in the same place even while we’re driving?

While I was rushing to get him to preschool, he was observing the world around him.

Traits #4, 5, 6 - Independent, Original and Creative Thinker

The fourth, fifth and sixth traits of being a rocket girl scientist are being independent, original and creative thinkers.

Independent thinkers in that a Rocket Girl bases her conclusions not on someone else’s dictates, but on her own findings, and more than that, is willing to be wrong if her findings prove otherwise.

Original thinkers in that a Rocket Girl often asks a different question than everyone else is, which allows her to tackle a problem from a different and unique perspective.

And, creative thinkers in that being a Rocket Girl extends far beyond being "good at numbers." It requires being able to piece together little bits of understanding that slowly fall into place." A Rocket Girl observes the world around her, asks good questions, develops experimental protocols to answer those questions, and analyzes and interprets experimental results into a more cohesive understanding.

Trait #7 - Grit

Rocket Girls have grit, the seventh trait. Grit is the ability to stick with something even though it is difficult to do. We are so afraid these days of letting our children fall that we don’t allow them to develop this most important of traits. In fact, grit is the number one indicator of both academic and career success. Do you change classes when they seem too difficult, or you’re not getting the grade you want, or do you do whatever it takes to master the material?

Trait #8 - Willing to Fail

Of course, along with grit is the eighth trait, the willingness to fail. Rocket Girl scientists must be willing to be wrong, to struggle and sometimes not get the answer they seek. Especially with science, sometimes the growth and the learning is in the struggle itself. What did you learn from failing? What did you learn NOT to do?

Trait #9 - Collaborator and Communicator

The ninth trait of a Rocket Girl scientist being a good collaborator and communicator. Science in the twentieth century is getting ever more collaborative, due to the ease with which we can work with others around the globe, the rising cost of research equipment, and that much of science these days is at the intersection of many of its branches.

The role of communicator is arguably more important, especially with the general public. Science is often too complicated for many of us to understand and yet is so important in determining policy for the next generation. Scientists need to better communicate their findings so that the public is better informed to make and/or vote on these critical decisions.

Trait #10 - Toughness

And finally, the tenth and last trait of a Rocket Girl is toughness. More than grit, which I’ve mentioned previously, and applies to men and women alike, toughness is unique to the Rocket girl. As women scientists, we face a lot more scrutiny, a lot more restrictive hiring practices, and unwelcoming workplace environments. The Rocket Girl has to be tough, to push through these barriers, and flourish despite them.

So there you have it. The ten traits of Rocket Girls. Do you have all of them? Some of them? Want to learn more? Sign up at http://RocketGirls.com

Watch the video above for the full lesson.

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