Dear Mentor:

How should my son prepare for a career as a NASA scientist?

My son is currently in +2 of high school in Madras. He aims to join the IIT and is preparing for the same since his 9th standard. His academics are fairly well and he is confident of getting selected in the IIT. He wants to pursue Nuclear Physics and, graduate as a Physicist. His dream is to join institutions like the NASA. Could you please advice me of the road-map for achieving his goal? Thanking you and awaiting your reply.

Rocket-Scientist's Parent, Madras, India

Dear Rocket-Scientist's Parent:

We are glad to hear about the academic success your son has had thus far and his focused motivation and ambition for his career.

Before we discuss a road-map for your son's education and career, let us consider what an institution like NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) in the US does and, thus, the kind of people it employs. NASA, primarily a US government funded institution, does research in aeronautics and space exploration. At the face of it, it might appear that NASA employs only "rocket scientists" - people highly educated and skilled in engineering and sciences. These people do make up the successful and highly visible group of professionals who help NASA achieve its core objectives. However, NASA also employs people with liberal arts and business backgrounds. Just like any large institution, the skills and education of the employees are diverse. In a nutshell, NASA looks for creative, innovative and talented professional to accomplish its mission. Several countries involved in aeronautics and space research, including India, have NASA-like institutions.

You son's choice for education in nuclear physics, from a premier institution like IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), is a worthy goal. IITs are world renowned for their rigorous curricula, and nuclear physics is a relevant discipline for a NASA-like institution. The choices beyond the Bachelor's degree become more interesting - whether to continue education and from where? We recognize that such a decision is a few years away, and there is no one right answer. It is advisable to pursue further education for accelerated professional success. Such education should be from the most advanced and reputable educational and research institutions. In this regard, you son may wish to consider colleges in the US. With undergraduate education from an IIT and excellent academic performance, you son stands a good chance of obtaining financial aid for graduate studies in the US. And, your son would have an opportunity to specialize in an area of personal interest while matching such interest with the needs of a NASA-like institution at that time. This choice for education does not preclude your son from working in India - in fact it opens the doors to many NASA-like institutions around the world.

For now, your son seems to be on the right track. Let us discuss his situation again, as he progresses through his adventures in his life. Best wishes!

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