Students Ability to Relate to Scientists: Impacts of Geoscientist Spotlights
Geosciences struggle with a significant diversity problem and have the lowest participation rates of historically marginalized individuals in science and engineering occupations (URGE, 2022; AGI, 2020). Majors frequently "discover" the geosciences through introductory courses (Houlton, 2010), and yet the scientists featured in these courses most often reflect historical stereotypes of people who "do science" (e.g. white, straight, cisgender male) (Simpson et al., 2021; Phillips & Hausbeck, 2000). This is one of many potential factors limiting students from seeing themselves as the types of people who "do" science. As one way of addressing this, we have developed Geoscientist Spotlights for introductory courses (Smalls et al., 2022). These weekly assignments teach traditional content while featuring a relevant scientist. Our previous research found that students who reflected on these assignments were more likely to use non-stereotypical descriptors of geoscientists by the end of the semester. Here, we pose the follow-up question, "Do elements of the Geoscientist Spotlights enhance the perceived relatability of geoscientists, which would in turn help students see themselves in the field?"
Students reported the relatability of scientists pre- and post-semester using a single, Likert-style question and a short, written explanation of their response. We assessed semester-long changes in the perceived relatability of scientists, and examined differences based on whether or not students were 1) asked to reflect, and/or 2) given personal information about the scientist (including a photo). Overall, the relatability of scientists significantly increased from pre- to post- semester (p < 0.05). No significant differences were found based on exposure (or lack thereof) to reflection questions and personal information. Ongoing analyses are examining the role of student demographics in the perceived relatability of scientists. Geoscientist Spotlights offer a tool for instructors who aim to promote a more inclusive view of science.