What does a scientist look like?

During my interviews for my study I asked all the participants what a scientist looks like.  This question came just after I asked if they believe learning about their own race is important to their learning.  The students describe almost everything that they were not!  Is this one of the big disconnects? That students don’t feel they meet the criteria of science?  They nearly all described an Albert Einstein looking male.  Below is the table summarized.  What is the cause of this?  Could it be the fact that Western Science is heavily taught in school?  Are cartoons to blame?  The media?  The textbooks?

ImageFrom my personal experience the media/tv shows portrays scientists as an Albert Einstein look a like.  I often watched Bill Nye growing up and I still show my students, sure Bill Nye is a middle aged white male, but the show has many children on it of all backgrounds as well.  The authority figure in the show is the white male, so this is maybe where the students get this from.  Often commercials have a medical authority trying to sell some product and they are also a white middle aged male.  The textbooks that were just released over the last couple years are phenomenal at portraying all kinds diversity from women wearing a hijab to features on key black scientists to sections on students who are researching right now at the high school level.  These books are very engaging and really making an effort to show that ALL students can be scientists. 



Below is a chart summarizing the findings.  NOTE all names as pseudonyms and races are what each student told me they identified with.  All answers are word for word transcriptions taken within an inner city high school in Toronto.  



what does a scientist look like?



S: white male about 30-50 with glasses hahaha



S: first, first picture, they would…I don’t know…honestly…probably like a white guy in a lab coat or something hahah, to be real still. But like I know there is black scientists…you know and all that stuff. But like in a book, that’s a white guy.



African American

T:probably white, puffy hair hahaha


Mixed (white/ black)

T:ahhhh someone in lab coat, beaker,

T:I guess facial look? Like someone who doesn’t take care of themselves, beard haha

T:any race.




Albert Einstein



L: nerds

L: yea, guy, get paid good

L: white, but mostly guys


Light Skin

K: just um lab coat, some beakers,

K: unisex



J: most shows they put them with a guy with classes or something, lab coat,

J: mostly like white



J: an old white guy hahah



E: usually white, for the most part



M: like a nerd, glasses, lab coat and something like that


Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: