Frequently asked questions

I’m not technically a scientist. Can I participate?

For our purposes, a huge range of people fall into the “scientist” category. The main requirement is that you are enthusiastic about communicating with the pre-scientists! We welcome pen pals from all different fields related to science and technology and at many stages of their careers. This includes undergraduate students, graduate students, post-docs, industry professionals, teachers, engineers, and more.

How many letters do I have to write?

The pre-scientists have four quarters in a school year, and we ask that you send one letter per quarter. Feel free to write more often if you like, but four letters is the minimum.

Why haven’t I gotten any emails from you? 

We use a service called Mailchimp to send emails, and often these messages go to the Promotional tab of Gmail inboxes. To make sure you get all our updates, just click and drag an email from the Promotional tab to the Primary tab. You can also right-click on any of our emails and choose Move to tab, Primary.

Why wasn’t I chosen to get a pen pal?

Our “limiting reagent” is teachers who are willing to volunteer their class time to participate in Letters to a Pre-Scientist. We would love to reach out to more students so that all of our scientists could have a chance to write letters. If you know any motivated science teachers who might want to take part, please have them contact us:

What happens if I miss a deadline?

If we don’t receive a letter from you by the deadline, we will notify you before we re-assign your pen pal to another scientist. If you know you will not be able to continue writing letters, please email us ( in advance to let us know. We understand that things come up, and you are welcome to sign up again in the future!

Will I be notified when my letter is received?

Our teachers are not able to contact each scientist when their letter comes in. If you don’t hear from us, it means your letter arrived safely!

My pen pal didn’t write back to me. Did I do something wrong?

Some of the pre-scientists struggle with motivation in completing writing assignments, but they all benefit from receiving your letters. Keep writing to them every quarter, and you will eventually get a response. Also, please keep in mind that nearly all of the pre-scientists are reading below grade level. In order to encourage them to respond and be engaged in the stories you have to share, it will help greatly if you make your writing style age-appropriate. See this page for some example letter and writing prompts.

My pen pal doesn’t seem interested in science. What should I write about?

Because our program is designed such that every student in the classroom participates, each pen pal’s level of interest in science will be different. If your pen pal mentions other aspects of their life in their letter, including other school subjects they are interested in or extracurricular hobbies, you should respond to that in a positive way. To redirect the conversation to science, you may also prompt your pre-scientist with questions related to your general field of scientific interest, such as bugs, space, the weather, the human body, or something broad that could engage your pen pal in a discussion about what you do as a scientist. These types of questions help many pre-scientists better understand what a scientist does, especially those pre-scientists who say that they don’t like science.

Do you accept donations?

We sincerely appreciate all our scientists who donate their time by writing letters. We always have a need for letter-writing supplies, i.e. envelopes, stamps, and lined paper. As you can imagine, providing these items adds up to a large cost for hundreds students. If you would like to donate supplies, you can mail them to your pen pal’s teacher directly, in a separate envelope.

You can also become a sponsor and support our program via Flipcause.

How else can I interact with my pre-scientist’s class?

Our admin team can facilitate communication with your pre-scientist’s teacher to discuss setting up a Skype or in-person visit to the classroom. Contact us to get the discussion started!