Frequently asked questions


Last updated 8/7/2020
Important: Have a question not addressed below? Email us at info@prescientist.org!

How many letters do I have to write?

Our program has four letter rounds between September and June, and you will write one letter each round. You should also receive a letter from your pen pal each round. In the event that you do not receive a letter from your pen pal one round, we ask that you write them a letter anyway so no student is left out on letter opening day.

What is the schedule for sending and receiving letters?

Pen pals exchange four rounds of letters each school year. Here is an example program calendar.

  • After the initial matches are made at the beginning of the school year, students will write the first letter. STEM professionals can expect to get their letter in the mail sometime in September or October.
  • It takes 6-8 weeks to go through one cycle of exchanging letters.
  • We ask that you also upload a digital copy of your letter to avoid delays. Your letter will still be delivered to your pen pal when it comes through the postal mail.
  • Each classroom has a slightly different calendar. In September, we will email STEM pen pals to let them know deadlines for when their letters should be sent.

When should I expect to get a letter from my pre-scientist?

A letter from your pre-scientist should arrive in your mailbox approximately two weeks before your deadline to send a reply. But don’t worry if your letter arrives a few days late! Postal mail can be delayed for a variety of reasons. Some pen pals also struggle with completing assignments, so you may not receive a letter each round. If you are an international scientist and have not received your letter one week before your deadline to send a reply, please reach out to your Program Manager.

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

Some pre-scientists struggle to complete 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 many 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 some example letters, or find prompts and resources for each theme.

What happens if I miss a deadline?

If we don’t receive a letter from you by the deadline, we will notify you and you will be given the opportunity to submit it late before we re-assign your pen pal to another STEM professional. By registering and completing training, you are making a commitment to our program for the year, and that commitment means a lot to your pre-scientist. Please do your best to fulfill your commitment by not missing any deadlines. If you know you will not be able to continue writing letters, please email us (info@prescientist.org) 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 STEM professional when their letter comes in. If you don’t hear from us, it means your letter arrived safely!

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. Find more ideas for what to write in your letter.

I’m not sure my pre-scientist understands what I do. What have they learned about in science class?

Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward, and varies by state.
Some of our LPS teachers are transitioning from teaching state created science standards to adopting the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The Next Generation Science Standards have not been adopted by all states, nor is there a firm implementation plan set to ensure they will be by a certain year. We currently have some teachers that have adopted the NGSS. Our other teachers are teaching their state’s science standards, which may or may not have been influenced by the NGSS. Click here to learn more about middle school science education.

What topics are okay to talk about with my pen pal?

Letters to a Pre-Scientist is committed to supporting all aspects of diversity in STEM and ensuring an inclusive environment that is welcoming to everyone who interacts with our programs. We know that real, personal stories help students to see that people with a range of different identities can become scientists, despite any obstacles they may face. We encourage STEM professionals and pre-scientists to communicate, in an age-appropriate way, their stories to each other. Please read about our values to learn more.

What am I allowed to send to my pre-scientist pen pal?

While we don’t ask that STEM pen pals send anything to their pen pals, we welcome you to send anything that enhances the conversation about science and higher education that you’re having with your pen pal. Many pen pals send stickers, postcards, brochures, or pens, while some even have sent small pieces of scientific equipment. Find more ideas on the letter writing best practices page of our website.

You are allowed to send packages larger than a regular-sized envelope! We do ask that anything you send be safe for your pen pal to touch and use, and that you explain what you sent in a student-friendly manner.

If you are sending a donation or gift for the entire class, please send it in a separate envelope from your letter, addressed directly to the teacher. Thank you!

My pen pal found me on social media. What do I do?

It is a reality that middle school students are astute users of social media, and that many volunteers have an identifiable social media presence. Unfortunately, at this time we must ask that you refrain from responding to your pen pal on a social media site for legal reasons. You might mention in the next letter that you send to your pen pal that you can only write to them via the letters. Feel free to blame it on us!

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

Our team can facilitate communication with your pre-scientist’s teacher to discuss setting up a videochat or in-person visit to the classroom. Some scientists have also arranged for their pre-scientist’s class to visit their workplace or university. Contact us to get the discussion started!

Why haven’t I gotten any emails from you?

We use two primary services to send you emails: Gmail and Mailchimp. Often, messages sent from Mailchimp 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. Once matched, most of the important program information will come from your program manager.