What Does a Scientist Look Like?

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Quick, draw a picture of a scientist. Just a quick sketch on a piece of scrap paper.

What does your scientist look like? Frizzy-haired or long, shiny tresses? Happy or hangdog? Male or female? Working in the lab or out in the field?

If you drew an older white man in a white lab coat holding a test tube amidst a lab disaster, you’ve got the old stereotype of a scientist in your mind–and you’re not alone. “No wonder we have a problem recruiting scientists,” says science journalist Quentin Cooper in a New Scientist interview. Too many people, young and old, still have this old-fashioned image unshakably embedded in their head, when in truth the exciting field of exploration and investigation into the natural world is open to everyone. Scientists aren’t just harried old men working away in a lab. They dive in oceans and ski on glaciers. They can be young, female, and ethnically diverse. They study soil in crop fields and help in the cleanup of oil spills. One way to combat the old image, explains Cooper, is to supplant the stereotype with the reality:

[S]omeone had the idea of introducing children to a real scientist after they had drawn one, and then asking them to have another go at drawing. One of my favourite examples is of the schoolgirl who initially drew a man with frizzy hair and a white coat, but afterwards depicted a smiling young woman holding a test tube. Above it is the word “me”. I still find myself choking up when I show it.

Source: New Scientist

Images by NOAA’s National Ocean Service and NOAA’s National Ocean Service, licensed under Creative Commons.

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