What do scientists do? Increasing Awareness of social and networking aspects in everyday activities of scientists


  • Katrin Hochberg Physics Education Group, Department of Physics, Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
  • Jochen Kuhn Physics Education Group, Department of Physics, Technische Universität Kaiserslautern




Gender, Nature of Science, School Labs


Background: Unfortunately, despite many efforts, women are still underrepresented in most STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) areas, particularly in physics. Changing the image of science and especially physics to be less masculine, less difficult and more social may be a promising way to attract more pupils and especially girls. One auspicious possibility to change the image of science is to clarify the actual wide range of activities of scientists in their everyday work life (the “nature of scientists”, NoSt), including social and communicative aspects.


Purpose: In the current study, we aim to show if changes in pupils’ views about NoSt can be increased by explicitly giving input about scientists’ everyday activities before conducting experiments and if this changed image of physics will lead to higher career aspirations, especially for girls.


Sample/Setting: The sample consists of 48 pupils of the fifth grade (10-11 years old) of the German “Gymnasium” in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany (24 pupils in treatment group (TG, 13 boys, 8 girls) and control group (CG, 12 boys, 11 girls). All pupils visited a school lab with a 10-15 minute-long introduction followed by 135 minutes of experiments. During the introduction, the intervention (conversation about NoSt) took place for about 5 minutes. Pre-tests were conducted a day before, post-tests directly after the visit at the school lab.


Design Methods: In a quasi-experimental pre / post design, a questionnaire on NoSt was used (Cronbach’s  = 0.75) in addition to a question concerning future science career aspirations. As our sample was small, we used Mann-Whitney-U-tests for comparisons between and Wilcoxon-signed-rank-tests for comparisons within groups, and Cohen’s d as effect size.


Results: Within groups, perception of social and networking aspects of NoSt increased for all subgroups except for girls in the CG (pmale,TG = 0.013, dmale,TG = 1.90; pfemale,TG = 0.011, dfemale,TG = 4.00; pmale,CG = 0.022, dmale,CG = 1.76). For career aspirations, the only significant effect is for boys of the TG (pmale,TG = 0.038, dmale,TG = 1.40). The girls of the TG show the highest increase, but also a growing standard error.


Conclusions/Implications for classroom practice and future research: The current study provides first evidence that just a conversation in class about scientists’ everyday work can on one hand raise the awareness of social and networking aspects of NoSt, especially for girls, and on the other hand increase pupils’ science career aspirations. There is enough evidence to recommend to school labs as well as to teachers doing lab work in class to include at least short conversations about scientists’ everyday acitivites to provide pupils with a less stereotyped image of the nature of scientists.


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