Did you know there is a scientific research tool called the “Draw-a-scientist test” (DAST) that is used to understand how people perceive scientists?
The DAST has been used to understand what people picture when asked to think about a scientist, with some fascinating results. Think about it for a moment. If you were to doodle a scientist right now, what would you draw? There is no correct answer. Just give it some thought, sketch something and if you feel like it, tag @ErrantScience and share it online.
Unsurprisingly, the results of DAST and early research on children’s perceptions revealed that most imagined scientists as stereotypical or mythical characters. Students typically described scientists as men with messy hair wearing lab coats and glasses, working with lab equipment.
In a 1983 study of 4000 students in kindergarten through grade 5 in the US, only 28 girls drew women scientists. Despite efforts to improve the portrayal of women in science, a 2020 meta-analysis of 30 DAST studies worldwide found that “Students still view scientists as middle-aged Caucasian men who wear white lab coats and work in a laboratory”.
It is possible that few children encounter “real life” scientists, so they rely on media to show them what scientists look like. If I relied on childhood movies to teach me about scientists, I would draw a picture of Doc Brown from Back to the Future (Yes, I’m old. LOL).
Until relatively recently, most television and movie scientists have been men. A notable early exception was Dr. Dana Scully on The X-Files. As the only prominent woman in STEM on primetime television in the early 1990s, Scully became a role model for young women. The Scully Effect is credited with causing an influx of women into STEM.
Throughout schooling, boys and girls diverge in their levels of interest, confidence, and sense of belonging in science. Those early gender stereotypes about appropriate careers can influence academic and career choices later in life.
In addition to perceptions about what scientists look like, obstacles, including a lack of role models, overt discrimination, unwelcoming social and cultural environments (aka chilly climate), and a tangle of biological, psychological, and external factors contribute to women’s underrepresentation in STEM careers.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as recent efforts to improve women’s representation in STEM are changing the ratio in some areas, such as life sciences and social sciences. But there are still big gaps in many disciplines, including engineering and physics. And as recruitment has improved, other issues have begun to rise to prominence, including the attrition of women from science pathways. While research into reasons for women’s attrition continues, I decided to focus on the other side of the question:
How do women persist in STEM?
In other words, how do some women manage to stay in STEM fields despite the barriers? And most importantly, what can we learn from these women to help others?
So given how important I feel this is, I am examining how women persist in STEM education and careers. My dissertation is based on Self-Determination Theory, which says people tend to experience greater persistence and well-being when their basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are satisfied.
To explore whether this theory holds up for women persisting in STEM, I am conducting a short online survey and I need to hear from as many voices and experiences as possible!
If you are a woman with an undergraduate degree in STEM, plus at least two more years of school or work experience in a STEM field, you may participate in this study! It won’t bring you fame or fortune, but I will be grateful for your help, and the results of the study might benefit other girls and women in STEM. Participation in the study is voluntary and totally anonymous and we welcome people from all around the world and all backgrounds.
To read all the details and take the survey, click the button below!
And if you know anyone who might be willing to participate, please share this information. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at heathersaigo.com.