School & District Management Report Roundup

Scientists Look Like What?

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 01, 2018 2 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Pop “scientist” into an image search and you’re likely to see people in goggles and white coats, swirling liquids in Erlenmyer flasks or peering into microscopes. A new study finds the older students get, the more their image of a “scientist” comes into line with that stereotypical view.

But in the past 50 years, girls and boys alike have become more willing to picture women in scientific fields, according to a recent meta-analysis in the journal Child Development. Northwestern University researchers scrutinized the results and drawings from 78 studies of more than 20,000 K-12 students since 1966. In each of those studies, students across grades and states had been asked to draw a scientist at work.

Overall, students drew about 73 percent of scientists as male, but women have gained a lot of ground. In the studies conducted before 1983, only 0.6 percent of all drawings depicted a woman as a scientist. In more recent studies, women are drawn as scientists 28 percent of the time.

“If you ask children to draw a person, they are more likely to draw their own sex than the opposite sex,” said David Miller, a postdoctoral psychologist and the lead author of the study,

Boys overwhelmingly draw scientists as male, while girls tend to envision them as female—at least at first. At age 6, girls drew about 70 percent of their scientists as women. But by the time they were 16, girls depicted scientists as male 75 percent of the time.

“The change toward more men being drawn as children age merely reflects that they are more aware of their society as they get older—that is, more aware that more men than women are scientists,” said co-author Alice Eagley.

In notes accompanying some of the studies, some students specifically mentioned famous scientists such as Marie Curie or Albert Einstein, or popular television personalities such as Bill Nye, the Science Guy as shaping their view of what a scientist looks like. Nonetheless, their views became more stereotypical in concept as they got older. The researchers found, for example, that older students were more likely to depict a scientist inside, in a lab, while younger students were more likely to draw scientists outside. (And it’s worth noting that while the researchers did not dig much into racial differences, 79 percent of all of the drawings depicted scientists as white.)

“I think that result suggests that children learn multiple stereotypes about scientists as they mature, not just stereotypes about gender,” Miller said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2018 edition of Education Week as Scientists Look Like What?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How to Have a Hard Conversations With Your Teachers: 3 Tips for Principals
Here are three small steps that can ease the pain of a difficult conversation between a principal and teacher.
3 min read
Photo of two women having discussion.
E+
School & District Management How Have School Leaders Responded to the Trump Shooting?
When a tragic national incident happens in the middle of the summer, do school officials feel compelled to respond?
4 min read
A crowd waits for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump to speak at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024.
A crowd waits for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump to speak at the campaign event in Butler, Pa., on July 13, 2024, before a shooting took place.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
School & District Management What Do Superintendents Do in the Summer?
In their own words, superintendents describe what keeps them busy while students are on break.
4 min read
Photo of woman working at office desk.
E+
School & District Management Principals' Unions Are on the Rise. What Are Their Demands?
Across the country, principals are organizing for better working conditions.
8 min read
Illustration of hands shaking with smaller professional people standing on top, with hands in the air, celebrating.
iStock/Getty