What childhood influences create a young adult interested in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career?

It seems that the biggest factor is those around that person as a child, most particularly that child's family.

New research done by George Mason University found that family is the most important factor in a young adult deciding on pursuing a career in science. This is the first time that such a study has looked at what attracts young people to STEM careers.

Researchers spoke with 149 participants in Mason's Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship program from 2007 to 2013. This program is for high school and undergraduate students and gives them a chance to work with real research with qualified scientists.

Over 65 percent of those interviewed said that experiences in science with family members convinced them to pursue careers in science. Much of those experiences included simple childhood activities, such as playing with blocks, microscopes, chemistry sets and telescopes. Over 92 percent of those students said that lab experience that allowed them hands-on practice with scientific principles convinced them of their career path.

This shows that family plays an important role in establishing future scientists. This role is even more important than that of high school and college.

"As a mom of three children, I am inspired by the Aspiring Scientists' recollections of what initially got them interested in science," says Amy Adams, director of the Aspiring Scientists program. "When I watch my two-year-old sit in a sea of blocks building creative structures or when his 10-year-old brother is amazed by the results of his chemistry experiment in the kitchen, I recognize, more than ever, that experiences like these may shape their interests in the future."

Researchers also suggest that the holiday season is a good time to play with kids and pique their interest in scientific activities.

"I have four grandchildren and love to work on science projects with them during the holidays and on summer vacations," says Lance Liotta, one of the study's authors. "Among many of the fun memories, we have made autonomous robots and held robot wars at Thanksgiving. We have also tested new micro airplanes and radio-controlled butterflies, and studied the behavior of cicadas."

So how can you encourage the children in your family to get interested in science? The answer is pretty simple: buy them scientific tools, such as microscopes and telescopes, chemistry sets and ant farms. Take them to museums, watch science television shows together, work with them on practicing coding skills online and read science books.

[Photo Credit: NASA]

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