PacSci Perspectives


What Does A Scientist Look Like?

by | May 22, 2017 | PacSci Stories |

My name is Kaitlyn. I like the theater and the zoo. I have a drawer full of tea in my kitchen, and I play tennis. And, oh yeah, I’m a scientist.

If I’d asked you to guess what my profession was, would you have guessed what I do? (No fair if you did because you’re reading this in a science magazine!) Or more importantly: if I had asked you to imagine a scientist, would you have thought of someone who looked like me? For most people, the answer is no.

Dozens of studies have asked kids to draw and describe what they think a scientist is like. They usually come up with an image that looks very much like a stereotypical movie scientist. If you’re picturing them drawing Doc Brown from “Back to the Future,” you’re not far off. Adults, even adult scientists, do this too. This isn’t a diverse or inviting picture to kids thinking about a career in science, or adults wondering if they can ask a scientist for answers or advice. Media depictions of scientists are only reinforcing this image too.

I was lucky that I had an extraordinary science teacher at my elementary school. I had opportunities to meet science role models and explore science for myself. I saw myself as someone who could be a scientist. Today, I’m getting my PhD in neuroscience at the University of Washington, where I study how the brain changes its activity both naturally and in learning a new skill. To me, scientists are my friends and colleagues and teachers.

I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if the people around me hadn’t shown me that scientists are people like me. That even when I was ten years old and science was just bottle rockets in the school parking lot. I discovered experimental error then too: I accidentally hit a moving car with the cork from my unexpectedly powerful bottle rocket. New hypothesis to test: bottle rockets on the soccer field. Already doing science, already a scientist.

At Pacific Science Center I pass those opportunities I had on to kids and adults: to meet a scientist, to see yourself as a scientist, to learn that you don’t have to be a professional to still be a scientist, and to show that scientists are just regular people from all walks of life who happen to have a really cool job. Come find me at the Science Center programs and lectures!

Meet scientists like Kaitlyn on most Saturdays at Pacific Science Center. Stop by Ackerley Family Exhibit Gallery to engage in hands-on activities relating to research being conducted by local scientists. Learn More