In a nutshell, mentors:
The most common response to the question ‘What inspired you to take up science?’ – given by respondents including Dr Colin Berry, Peter Cochrane, Jorge Mayer, Simon Singh and Christopher Llewellyn Smith – is that they were inspired by teachers or mentors. Typical of such reponses are Alom Shaha‘s description of ‘gifted teachers, whose enthusiasm for their subjects was relentless and infectious’, and Michael Wilson‘s account of ‘inspirational and rigorous teachers in high school, who engendered an insatiable intellectual hunger for factual knowledge, and who encouraged observation and deductive thinking’.
Survey respondents often point to one or two particular individuals who made a lasting impact. Josef Penninger, for instance, was inspired by ‘a great mentor and teacher’, and argues that ‘most of us became what we became because of one dominating person, who moved us into a certain direction’. Frances Downey, James Enstrom, Pat Norris, John Zarnecki and Anton Zeilinger describe inspirational mathematics and physics teachers, Thomas Addiscott and Eliot Forster discuss inspirational chemistry teachers, and Kenneth Freeman had ‘a very capable and very overworked teacher’ who taught him mathematics, physics and chemistry. Meanwhile, Professor Sir Colin Berry, Keith Davies and William Ledger found inspiration in their biology teachers.