The Influence of Geoscientist Spotlights on the Perceived Identities of Scientists

Poster Session Part of Wednesday Poster Session


Peyton Smalls, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Sarah Todd, University of South Carolina-Columbia
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia

Majors frequently "discover" the geosciences through introductory courses, yet the scientists featured there often reflects historical stereotypes of scientists (e.g. white, straight, cisgender male). This is one of many potential factors limiting students from seeing themselves as the types of people who "do science." One tool developed to address this gap is "Scientist Spotlights" (Schinske et al., 2016), which feature non-stereotypical scientists alongside scientific content. These have been shown to shift student descriptions of scientists to be more non-stereotypical, and to increase the relatability of scientists.

To assess whether these assignments can successfully be transferred to a geoscience context, and to identify which features are most salient in supporting their impact, we created a dozen weekly "Geoscientist Spotlight" assignments for an introductory geology course of 240 students. Using a 2x2 study design, students were randomly assigned into a "personal" or "non-personal" group, and then into a "reflection" or "non-reflection" group. Students in the personal group received information about the geoscientists (e.g. a photo and a short bio) in addition to their scientific work; students in the reflection group were explicitly asked to reflect on what the week's resources told them about the types of people who do science. All students completed a pre/post semester survey with questions about the types of people who do science and the relatability of scientists.

Preliminary results of the pre-semester data indicate that most students hold stereotypical notions of scientists (e.g. intelligent, curious). Non-stereotypes (e.g. comments that "scientists can be any type of person") are present for less than a third of student submissions. Responses will be compared with those submitted post-semester, and examined by treatment group. These results can help us identify what assignment features are most impactful in shifting student ideas about who can do science.