Much has been written about how inspirational teachers can turn students on to a subject they perhaps would otherwise have let drift away. But what do you do if you're really into a subject but have a poor teacher who is doing their best to turn you off?

I think many scientists show signs of their curiosity at an early age. They may not know exactly where they will end up but they know that they need to know. Whether it's a fascination with why the Moon doesn't fall to Earth, with how your tropical fish procreate or what your cat's dreaming about, the first step towards knowing is to ask.

But school work seems to be designed around squashing that sense of fascination. Curricula are designed to fit into little boxes filled with granulated facts, giving instant satisfaction only to feel hungry again an hour later. But that's it; you can't eat the box and there's nothing else in the fridge. Just learn the facts, answer the questions and school exams are a breeze. Except that, if you actually understand what's going on the exams are even easier! Those granules dissolve into one cup of satisfying coffee – eating them with a spoon is revolting.

I know, there are good teachers out there, but this isn't about them; it's what to do when your teacher is an organic text book with the inspirational quality of an index page. I once had a physics teacher whose catchphrase was “leave it with me”, which in translation meant “you'll never see this again.” This was potentially tragic as a small clique of us were studying for university entrance exams to actually read physics. It dawned on us that he himself would not pass the exam we were about to take, which is why we never got back sample answers to tricky questions. We taught ourselves. It can be done as there are some great writers who can speak eloquently through the otherwise silent pages of their books. You just have to find them – or better still, find them on the net.

So anyway, this wasn't meant to be a long essay but rather a top-up to keep you going.

If you're told that it's not important, it probably is.

If you're told that's a silly question, then it's probably a good one.

If you're told it's a dumb question, then it's probably a very good one.

If you're told not to learn something because it's not in the syllabus, ignore the advice.

If you're told that those two things have no connection, then they probably do.

If your teacher says you can't do that experiment, ask the lab technician.

If your school library has nothing worth reading, go to your local library or the internet.

If you finish your classroom assignment while half the students are still sharpening their pencils, bring a more interesting book to read.

If your school mates haven't a clue about what you're talking about, go find a science museum or society.

If your teacher thinks that your being a geek is a term of abuse, know that the geeks won!

And when you get your PhD don't go back and wave it in front of your former teachers, because that is childish!