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Ideas on how to start volunteering, pre-university?

  1. Dec 19, 2011 #1
    Hello everyone, my name's Jordan and I'm new to these forums. I went through about 3 pages of recent Career Guidance, and searched for what I was looking for, but didn't find it. So I decided to make this post!

    I am currently in the 11th grade, and studying the three sciences my school provides, as well as am currently in the Enriched Math class in our school (We consist of 8 students. The rest dropped back in to regular math. Small class, hehe). I have a love for both Mathematics, and Physics and want to start getting more in to Physics. What I really want to do, is try to find a lab I could volunteer at, even if only for awhile.

    What was recommended that I do, was to ask a Physicist if I could volunteer 2-3 times a week, for 3-4 weeks. That way I get to try being there, and if they like me they could always invite me back. I've sent out one email to a Physicist I job shadowed, asking if he knew anyone I could contact.

    Anyways, I was wondering if anyone has any advice on how I could find more people I could contact. I would also love volunteering at a biology lab, which wouldn't be as ideal, but still an interesting experience! I'm just extremely nervous to send out the first few emails, and help on figuring out how to find people I could email, would be extremely helpful. Thank you all in advance!

    And any other advice on how to approach this, would be much obliged!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2011 #2


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    Welcome to PF, Jordan!

    Do you live near a college or university? You could try contacting some professors to see if they'd be willing to take you on as [STRIKE]cheap[/STRIKE] free labor.
  4. Dec 19, 2011 #3


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    There are some formal programs you can apply to, like the ones at MIT and NASA. The problem with searching on your own is that taking on a research student is a huge burden for a professor - mostly time, but also money. Many only take grad students, some take undergrads, but they are getting something out of that (their school might pay them extra, or it looks good on a tenure application). But they really get nothing out of taking on a high school student, so unless they're getting paid for it (like through the MIT program or something similar) it's not worth their time. Even grad students frequently aren't useful as research assistants (takes longer to train them than it would be to do it yourself), undergrads are very rarely useful, high school students aren't useful at all. You're just asking someone to give up a lot of time for just about nothing. Especially since you're not willing to put in too much time. If you want to do something useful, be prepared to put in many hours a week. Try some of your local schools if you can put in much more time.
  5. Dec 19, 2011 #4
    Forunately, I do! There are several Universities nearby that I could get to. I'm not going to lie, I do feel nervous contacting someone like a professor which is why I'm going to ask, is it alright to send a professor an email? It seems rather daunting.

    On that note though, I have gone over the website for a university nearby. They have a LOT of extremely interesting projects going on. Who should I get in touch with though? Just anyone involved, and if they're the wrong person to be asking, ask them if they could direct me towards someone who I could talk to about it?

    Edit: Oh, and thank you very much for the warm welcome :)
  6. Dec 19, 2011 #5


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    I understand feeling a bit nervous about contacting a professor. Be aware, they tend to be very very busy people, don't feel bad if you don't get any responses. Nothing ventured nothing gained!

    Maybe you could attend a seminar at a nearby university, too. It's sometimes possible to chat casually with people there - you might get some leads. And if not, at least you get to listen to a (hopefully) interesting presentation.
  7. Dec 19, 2011 #6


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    Of course it's alright to send a professor an email! All of the physicists I've interacted with have been very nice. However, they might be very busy, on holiday or out of the country, so don't be too upset if you don't get any responses. But the worst case scenario is that they send you a polite email saying they don't have anything for you.

    However, eri has a good point - you can't really do much for them. Some academics enjoy outreach, so you may have some luck, and I hope you do, but at the moment you don't really know anything, so you might not be able to contribute much. But you might get a few tours out of it! I was lucky, I got to do a small research project at the end of high school, but that was something organised through official channels.

    On who to contact? I'd suggest the head of the research group for whatever experiment you're interested in. They'll know who do delegate to (probably a grad student)
  8. Dec 20, 2011 #7
    In my Research Experiences for Undergraduate program there were some high school students in a similar program. This was several (10!) years ago though, so I'm not sure it still exists (60 seconds of googling gave me mixed results). Ask your local universities if they participate in such a program.
  9. Dec 20, 2011 #8
    In highschool, I worked in a national lab one summer and a university the next. I got the jobs by contacting various physicists at the lab and university, meeting with them to discuss their work, etc. Generally, I was payed as an intern, which (many years ago) was just above minimum wage. The work even lead to two papers. I know I can't be alone, as a few of my colleagues while I was in physics had publication records that stretched back to highschool.

    Not true at all. There is lots of work in labs that requires only very basic skills that can be picked up by a highschool student in a day or two (winding coils, pipetting small amounts of liquids into sample holders, etc). Some well-built experiments can be run by anyone (put sample in, press button, wait, rinse-repeat). Paying a highschool student a small sum of money to take care of some of the basic stuff can free up a lot of the more knowledgeable lab members time. Of course, the highschool student will be competing with undergrads for the same sort of positions.
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