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The Men in White Coats

June 18, 2012
*This review was written by Allison Smith (uploaded via Jerrid Kruse’s account)
Reference: Dorrington, H., & Trushell, J. (2010). The men in white Coats: Teacher trainees’ perceptions

of scientists. At The Interface / Probing The Boundaries, 6067-81.

What is known: This 2010 research and article from the U.K. addresses the concern that elementary students hold a stereotypical perception of scientists that is being perpetuated by their teachers’ own stereotypical perceptions. American research on the public perception of scientists began in 1950’s and research concerning the public’s view of scientists and gender began in 1983. A study done where students grade K-5 were asked to draw a scientist.  Most students drew a picture of white, older men with beards and bald heads, wearing a lab coats.  Studies went on to show that no male students drew female scientists and in the rare occasion that female scientists were depicted were drawn by females students.  This study has been extended worldwide and yielded similar results. Out of 1102 drawings spanning 6 European countries, only 272 were of female scientists.  In 1997 a study was conducted to show that these stereotypes were most likely being perpetuated by the students’ teachers.  Researchers found that when pre-service teachers were asked to draw a scientist, 84% of the students drew male scientists.

What this research adds: The authors of this article conducted a similar study as the ones before in which 89 pre-service teachers were asked to draw two scientists with the option to include coloring and labels.  They found that among the 72 female and 17 male participants, there was a presence of recurring features in their drawings.  Participants were given the option to draw two scientists and this lead to a tendency for both genders to be present  in the picture although when females were included they were often depicted in what the researchers deemed a negative depiction (i.e. they were shown as a subordinate to the male scientists in the picture).   Pictures that showed two male scientists and pictures that depicted both scientists as caucasian were drawn by males. Regardless of gender, the drawings often included scientists wearing lab coats, lab equipment and scientific instruments, though fewer male scientists were depicted with facial hair.  Overall, this research shows that it’s not just young students who hold a stereotypical perception of scientists it’s the adults around them passing this perception on to their students.  It goes on to state that  in order to begin to drive out the current perception, teachers need provide a more diverse exposure about scientists as people their students.  But first, they need to think about their own perceptions and how that affects their students.

Implications for practice:  This article serves as a commentary on why it is important to educate oneself about stereotypical perceptions about scientists. It supports that science teachers should be teaching the Nature of Science, particularly ideas about who scientists are and where and how they work. We as teachers must be incredibly careful about the messages we send to our students, verbally and nonverbally concerning this topic. In order to do teach these ideas in an accurate manner, pre-service teachers and teachers need to first examine their own perceptions about scientists.  Teachers should be aware, reflect, and analyze their own perceptions.  Then compare their perceptions to the real world. This could be done by researching scientists in the teacher’s community as well as internationally and finding out about who scientists really are and what they do.  This can also be done by taking a critical look at how scientists are depicted in general media and classroom materials.  By examining their own ideas about scientists and taking action towards displaying a more accurate view, they can then have a lasting effect on how their students will develop their own perceptions.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Helenl Darlington permalink
    September 22, 2013 12:07 pm

    the original research by Dorrington and Trushell is really interesting- i suggest you read it.

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