At what age can parents see that their child may become a scientist in the future? The answer of course is similar to the one Dr. Spock once reputedly gave to a young mother who asked him at what age she should start “upbringing”, that is teach her child how to behave et cetera. The celebrated pediatrician asked her how old the child was. 3 weeks. “Then, m’am, you are 3 weeks too late!” In truth, nobody can tell what, when, why, how, where. A child born into a family of geniuses may be completely average, and a child born into a family of peasants may display unusual acuity of mind at a very early age. Just check out some biographies like Leonardo Da Vinci or Mikhail Lomonosov. The rest depends on the circumstances. It is said that one concerned adult, or one good teacher is enough to effect a change in a child’s life. There’s nothing bad in helping those who are OK, as Agatha Christie would say. My family consists of researchers and teachers with a liberal number of Ph.D.s on every side of the clan. When our child began conducting what I recognized as experiments at the age of 3, I started teaching her how to do what. She glued things together to see what would happen and if they would remain glued; she would pour different liquids into a cup to watch how they mixed. She could stay entranced looking at an opening flower. By the age of four she managed to fix a printer so that she could print pictures of dinosaurs before she could even read. And so on. As a teenager, she knew my home rules: no explosions, and clean up the mess.
A friend whose family was not connected to science at all brought her son to me when he was five. She told me dubiously that he seemed “different” and asked for my help. Yes, he had the same absorbing interest in life around him as my own kid. He had no problems at school, took part in many school competitions and contests, gradually progressed to national events. He just finished school. The only problem was choosing the faculty since the university was eager to have him. He settled on IT. Through the years, we would bring him information and souvenirs from various conferences. I have had the same situation many times in my life, and I feel privileged that I could help several children find their way in life. Science, research and education became their choices.
Sometimes it is next to impossible to determine what a child wants, and if he or she wants anything. In such cases I tell the parents to have patience. The important thing is, do they want to do something, anything with their lives after they finish school? If they don’t want to lounge around, with no job, no education, then the parents have causes for concern. If the child wants to do something totally different from what the family are used to, let them. They want to act, not sit around twiddling their thumbs.
For those of the young people who feel the attraction of science and research, there is nothing more exciting and gratifying.