What does a scientist look like?
[A topic that comes up fairly often when discussing people's perception of science is stereotypes. Ask someone to describe a scientist and they may well mention a socially awkward, wealthy, middle-aged white male in a white lab coat, with glasses, crazy hair, and perhaps even a bow tie. He might be toying with a test-tube containing a mysterious liquid, staring down a microscope, or gazing up a telescope.
Such stereotypes are not necessarily pleasing to the scientific community or even society at large. For instance, Terry Harvey-Chadwick, another newly-arrived science communicator, has run into problems with his Professor Boffin character.
This post is a list of examples that work for and against these stereotypes.]
1) The “What Various People Think I Do” Meme
Variations on this one seem to have exploded all over the internet over the last few days. Unsurprisingly, “science student” was the first one I saw (birds of a feather and all that). I think these are cute, and give a spectrum of views on what scientists and science students do, although of course they are superficial.
2) Clipart on Word
I had this idea when we were asked, for our MSc Science Communication course, to think about representations of scientists in films and the media. I decided to see what would come of a search for the term “scientist” in the Clipart gallery section of MS Word. I’ve since found out that I am not the only one to have had this idea, as Toby Murcott did a similar thing during his talk to us on that very course.
Here are the top 3 results:
Admittedly, that’s a fairly small sample size. So I recommend you have look for yourself, because I’m sure they aren’t all awful.
Speaking of awful…
3) Really bad stock photography.
This next one triggered quite a bit of amusement/anger/frustration on the psci-com email list (a list for anyone interested in communicating science).
So she’s got her hair tied back and is wearing safety goggles and gloves… but no clothes. Curious.
In the face of this, it’s refreshing to see projects like…
4) What a scientist really looks like.
This link will take you to the Tumblr blog for “What a scientist looks like”, where scientists can post pictures of themselves. Some are in their place of work (including some in lab coats!), others not. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Some have even started submitting letters to science itself, writing about what science means to them.
I know sometimes it feels like I don’t understand you, and sometimes I get frustrated, and may pull away, but then you say the most amazing things and I fall for you all over again. I love what we have. Thank you for being in my life.
There’s nothing quite like asking scientists themselves about what they do…
5) I’m A Scientist – the film.
In 2010, Stephen Curry won I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here. He used his prize money to make a film in which he interviewed proper, real-life scientists about their motivations and work (and cheese). It’s well worth a watch.