05 July 2010

Picturing Scientists

Yesterday’s Boston Globe mentioned this small study from Fermilab, which was conducted ten years ago but recently picked up by Restructure and Geek Feminism.

Thirty-one seventh-graders were asked to describe and draw their ideas of a “scientist” before and after a visit to Fermilab, where they met actual scientists. The before sketches often depicted stereotypical mad scientists in lab coats. Following the field trip, the students were more likely to refer to scientists as “normal people,” and to depict them in normal dress.

There was a striking contrast between girls and boys in the small sample. Before the visit, 36% of the girls drew a female scientist. Afterwards, 57% did.

Among boys, before the visit 100% drew male scientists. Afterwards…100% did.


Brigid said...

This is very cool. My husband does research at Fermilab, and while I haven't been there in many years, his colleagues are a nice, relatively normal bunch. My father was a physicist as well, and I remember being very disappointed that he didn't wear a white coat and have a lab (he was a theoretical physicist).

I started out as a physics major my freshman year in college, and I was the only woman in the program. I lasted a year and a half before switching majors; there were a lot of factors, but one was that I was assigned an advisor who was out of the country for a year, and no one bothered to tell me.

Years later, when I was 30, I went back to school to study physics again. There were two women in the physics department, and meeting them made a huge difference in my life, not because of anything they did but because they simply were women physicists. I failed my second run at physics as well—I chose to drop out of grad school to take care of my kid—but that experience left me with a lasting sense of the importance of seeing actual role models.

Melissa Stewart said...

According to a recent study conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 86 percent of scientists who reported loving their jobs said their decision to study science was influenced by a person they knew or an experience they had between the ages of 7 to 10. If Fermi Lab or other science research centers decide to host student field trips in the future, I hope they'll target this slightly younger age group.

Anonymous said...

Also, those SEVENTH GRADERS are terrible drawers. Every single one of them. Very curious.