Imagine this: you’re lying in bed, dreaming about all the wonderful things you hope to accomplish in your future. There is so much you want to achieve, but where do you begin? How do you turn your dreams into reality? You’re going to need a plan, and every good plan begins with research. It’s important to know what you’re working towards, and the steps you will need to take to achieve your dreams. In Chapter 3 of my new book, Dream Big!: How to Reach for Your Stars, I break down each of those steps towards creating and sticking with your game plan. While research can seem daunting, there are three key things I did while beginning my plan–and you can too!
The first step to researching your dream is learning about your field. Ask yourself, where are you headed? For me, the answer was always to be the first astronaut on Mars. So, I needed to learn all about astronomy, human space exploration, and the steps needed to become an astronaut.
Take to the Internet
The internet is a fantastic resource for you to use…if you know how to use it. You can find high-quality websites, podcasts, and books – oftentimes for free! You can listen to an interview of your role model, read a doctoral thesis, or watch a revolutionary moment in history. These different sources will give you a well-rounded understanding of your field and your dream.
That being said, you want to make sure the sources you are using are credible. You wouldn’t want to start off your dream by creating a faulty game plan! The first thing I always do is cross-check. Ask yourself, do at least two sources say the same thing? If so, then look into the author’s credentials. Do they have experience in that field? What is their degree? Do they have any obvious bias? (One good way to know if they do is by asking: are they trying to sell something?) This research is what you’re building your plan off of; you need to make sure the information is correct. You need a solid foundation to work off of!
Now that you’re assured your sources are credible, the next step to take is determining the requirements to be a part of your field. Research questions like, what experience is needed? What education level is required? What skills do I need? These are multi-layered questions with answers that take time to develop.
For me, being an astronaut requires a master’s degree in a STEM field, pilot experience, and knowledge of the Russian language, among other things. But I couldn’t just wake up one morning and accomplish each; these requirements all take a lot of time, preparation, and careful execution. I needed to take classes, practice daily, study hard, and more. How do I keep all these requirements organized?
Make a Timeline
Think of a timeline as a checklist. Start out by thinking about your biggest goals and when you should accomplish them. For instance, one requirement towards being an astronaut is having an undergraduate degree. So as a high school senior, I knew I wanted to accomplish that in about six years. That’s one of the first things you can put on your timeline!
From there, you can break down your goals more and more until you know what you have to work on right now in order to accomplish your future goals. (For instance, you want to go to college? The first step may be studying for the SAT or ACT!) Creating a timeline will help you stay on track so you can complete the requirements of your dream in a timely manner.
Don’t be surprised if your timeline is a decade or longer! Take a look at my requirements. An astronaut needs to have a master’s degree in a STEM field. That alone requires four years of undergraduate school plus another two years (or more!) to earn a graduate degree. Add research experience in-between and that requirement alone could take up to ten years. That’s why careful planning is so important!
By drawing out this timeline at a young age, I was definitely better prepared for each step along the way. My timeline guided me through high school and my undergraduate program and continues to guide me to a graduate program and beyond!
Creating a timeline also showed me that I wasn’t too young to start pursuing my dreams. Even though the average age for NASA astronauts is typically mid-thirties, I don’t have to wait to start pursuing my dream, and neither do you! Starting early allows you to stay motivated and be as prepared as possible towards accomplishing your dreams!
While learning about your field, you will discover incredible individuals that are a part of it. You may hear the story of a pioneer, listen to a talk by an expert, or bump into people with similar goals. Why just read countless internet articles when you can talk to a real-life expert in the field? These people can give you valuable insight and advice into jumpstarting your own journey.
A pioneer is someone who made revolutionary accomplishments in their field. Learn about their story. How did they achieve their dreams? What steps did they take? How can you learn from them? Modeling your plan after theirs is a great first step in your journey to success. One study, for instance, shows that having ethical role models motivates and inspires young people to become successful leaders in their field.
A mentor can be anyone passionate and knowledgeable about their field. Research who the experts are and don’t be afraid to reach out! I was lucky enough to spy astronaut Luca Parmitano in an airport, and after stopping him to introduce myself, he became my mentor on this journey. If you’re polite and passionate, people will be happy to speak with you. Usually, people are more than happy to help the next generation and pass it forward!
Your peers are those on a journey similar to yours. Perhaps you’ll meet them in school, at a
workshop, or in an online forum. No matter where, your peers are central to your community, and over time, they may just become some of your closest friends. Ask yourself, how can you work together? How can you support each other? How can you learn from them? Building these relationships will help propel all parties to succeed…as well as hopefully gain some friendships along the way!
The last step in conducting research for your dream is determining how you can gain experience. Sometimes, certain steps of our dreams can only be accomplished at a certain age, and you may feel stuck when you’re younger. However, there are so many ways you can improve your skills and gain experience in your field no matter how old you are.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm – Start Early!
Skills and experience make you a more well-rounded person. Research has shown that getting involved with work as a teenager can promote healthy development and teach important time management skills. You could make a blog, conduct research, join a club, get a job, or learn a new skill. You don’t know what you like until you actually try it! I didn’t know I like to run until I began training for a marathon in college. Now, I can’t stop running!
One particularly impactful experience for me was when I conducted research on extremophiles at the Kennedy Space Center’s Mars Lab. Working in an astrobiology lab and knowing first-hand what it was like really sealed my love for astrobiology and scientific research. Truly giving something your all and trying it first-hand can make (or break) it for you, but either way, that puts you one step further in finding out what you like!
How Does This Fit Into Your Timeline?
Just like with everything else, these things you can do should fit in your timeline somewhere. Perhaps you can join a club now but need to wait till college to conduct research. But with the current global pandemic, nothing is certain, and even the things you can do “now” may seem hazy. Luckily, tere are so many online resources you can use if you’re feeling stuck. Take it upon yourself to look up workshops, programs, and webinar series that could help you gain the same kind of experience and knowledge. Here are some examples:
- Astronomy videos produced by the Planetary Society
- Find work with Forte Foundation – Community for Women
- Join Free Workshops on General Assembly
Now Go Forth and Conquer!
So there you have it! By following these tips on how to research, you’ll be able to craft a detailed plan to accomplish your goals, which is step one on your journey to reaching your dreams. By learning about your field, building your community, and gaining experience, you’ll set yourself up for success.
Ready to learn how to stick with your game plan and more? For more information, be sure to check out my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach for Your Stars. Inside you’ll find handy tips, words of advice, and stories of my own experiences, that you can use to create your own well-rounded plan for success!