Draw a scientist

Before we begin, please take a moment to draw a mental picture of a scientist. Take your time; think about it. OK, got it? Now you may move on to the article, which is below the fold.

Anonymous third-grade girl in San Antonio. Leon Walls, Science

Back in perhaps 1983, when my niece was a wee, small little girl, she told someone she wanted to be a nurse. That person said, “Why not be a doctor?” My niece replied, “No, silly, I am a girl!” I will not describe for you her mother’s reaction.

According to this article in Science, things must be getting better: “When asked to draw a scientist, school-age kids in the United States are increasingly sketching women.” Specifically, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, fewer than 1 % of K-12 students, when asked to draw a scientist, depicted them as female. In recent decades, according to the Science article, more than half have drawn women.

The original study, which is available free, describes itself as “a meta-analysis of five decades of U.S. draw‐a‐scientist studies,” but the abstract notes that, as the children grow older, they more often associate scientists with men. Maybe that is not wholly unreasonable, considering that in 2016, only 29 % of the science and engineering workforce were women.

Those whose mental picture of a scientist was a 40-year-old male, beard, glasses, white lab coat or tweed jacket with elbow patches, possibly needing a haircut, may so confess in a comment.