I am a scientist at the Space Science & Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am engaged in learning about the weather on the planets. To accomplish this, I use data from spacecraft as well as earth-based telescopes. I also like to talk to K-12 students and the public about what we have found out about our solar system neighbors.
I come from a scientific and educational background in my family, so a career as a scientist was not a new concept to me. This was probably an innate curiosity about how things work. The idea to pursue a scientific career took strong hold by the time I graduated from high school, particularly when I won a national scholarship for pursuing a career in science. The preparation was a strong background in Math, Physics, and to a lesser degree, Chemistry. I do wish however that I had a stronger biology background.
The best thing about the job is that I actually truly enjoy what I do. In other words, it is not just a "job", it is also a hobby. I do have other non scientific interests, although it is now harder to find time to pursue them. Other things I like about my job is the opportunity to meet other people (mostly other scientists) and travel to places I would otherwise probably never go to. The least thing I like about my job is the amount of time spent in writing proposals, and the uncertainty involved in the proposal selection process since the grants are not very easy to win these days.
Growing up, I read both fiction and biographies, not so much science fiction. Did do a lot of experiments with home building gadgets etc. I would advise students to follow up on their curiosity and ask questions, get somebody to help you meet people working in the area of your interest, visit laboratories, science museums.
The biggest influence on me to pursue this field was probably my grandfather and my father. Can't honestly say that any teacher in school inspired me, although it was different in college. Later. meeting and working with other renowned scientists was very useful.