A new study finds that scientists’ initial interest in their subject is often sparked before they enter middle school, a conclusion the researchers suggest has implications for rethinking policy efforts aimed at getting more young people to take up science careers.
The federally funded study, published this month in the International Journal of Science Education, examines reports from 116 scientists and graduate students on the experiences that first engaged them in science. Sixty-five percent said their interest began before middle school. Women were more likely to say their interest was ignited by school-related activities, while most men recounted self-initiated activities, such as conducting home experiments or reading science fiction.
The early interest in science “runs counter to many initiatives ... where the focus is on improving science education at the secondary level,” write the co-authors, Robert H. Tai, an associate professor of education at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and Adam V. Maltese, an assistant professor of science education at Indiana University in Bloomington. “It may be important to instead center efforts on engaging young children in science.”
The study title refers to a tale one chemistry graduate student told of how she first got excited by science. In 3rd grade, her class was dissecting cow eyes, the study explains. She brought some “leftover” eyes home in a paper bag. But she neglected to tell her mother, who screamed when she found the bag in the refrigerator.
“From that point,” she recalls, “I started to really love science.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 17, 2010 edition of Education Week as Scientists Get Hooked on Science Early On, a Study Says