Have you all seen the studies illustrating what kids think a scientist is?
Last month my building hosted a “Career Day” where every teacher in the building was asked to have a speaker from any career they wanted during their class time, so students would have the opportunity to meet with people doing jobs they might be interested in. It was a day for students to look forward a few years, and to identify what they needed to do now and in college to get them on track to the sort of career they’d like to have. So, I took advantage of the opportunity to introduce my students to some of my favorite local scientists. I teach physics and biology, so I invited professional scientists who worked near those fields. One speaker is a materials scientist who specializes in solid state chemistry and microscopy, one a paleontologist who specializes in vertebrates (mammals of Ohio and dinos out West) and museum curator, and another is an astrophysicist who studies black holes.
It was clear that the students didn’t understand a lot about how scientists are trained or what they do. None of my scientists spent most of their time in a lab. The materials scientist does a lot of microscopy, but much of his day is at a desk working on data analysis. The paleontologist works with specimens and education. The astrophysicist remotely collects data and analyzes it, looking for trends that lead to identifying and learning about black holes.
All of them emphasized the importance of taking science and math courses. They all talked about the importance of creativity and curiosity. Anyone can be a scientist.
The surprises my students learned:
- Graduate school in the sciences is often paid for – tuition free plus a stipend.
- Getting a PhD does not make you fabulously wealthy. (My students think that because I have a PhD I am the highest paid teacher in the building. Definitely not true!)
- Scientists travel a lot, usually to interesting places, and your job will pay for it. (Materials scientist spent two months in Belgium, two summers in LA, has been to Korea and Morocco; Paleontologist has done field work in Colorado, Montana, and the Badlands of the Dakotas; the Astrophysicist lived in Denmark and has traveled the world using telescopes – Arizona, Chile, Scotland)
The feedback I got the next day of class was that “scientists really like what they do!” and “your speaker made all of career day worth it!”. I don’t know how many future scientists are in my classes, but I do know that two of my speakers will be seeing them again.
All in all, a win-win, I think. Maybe it demystifies science when kids see grownups having fun at science.
Have you brought scientists into your classroom? What did they do?