Welcome to my first ever blog post!
This week I find myself a student at Adelaide University’s Communicating Science winter short course. Doing structured study encourages my mind to wander and consider new things, which I immensely enjoy. Among many of the thoughts I have had so far, I will write about one in particular here.
What is a Scientist?
If you meet someone for the first time, it is quite common in western culture to ask “What do you do?” and if they say “I’m a Scientist”, what does this actually mean? Do you imagine the stereotypical scientist? Do you or any scientists you know fit into this profile?
The NSW Department of Education and Training provided one answer to this question.
What is a scientist?
When you think of a scientist do you imagine a rather strange older man with white hair? In fact, scientists come in all shapes and sizes.
It is hard to spot a scientist but, if you look in a mirror, you will see one looking back at you. You can work scientifically and be a scientist by observing, and then asking and answering questions about the world around you. Science is a process for finding new information. The steps in the process include:
- making an inference
- making an hypothesis
- collecting data
- analysing results
- publishing results.
If you follow these steps you will be working as a scientist.
The University of Berkley also have a more detailed unpacking of ‘what is science?’.
If you ‘do’ science, are you in a laboratory? in a classroom? at a computer? comparing your contents insurance? Are you a scientist 24/7 or are you only a scientist during work hours? Are you still a scientist if you are unemployed or not working in your chosen profession?
Which bring us to the study that showed that 60% of Australian higher education science students do not continue onto ‘traditional working scientists’? Can they still call themselves scientists?
Exactly how the science writer Sarah put it in her blog Science for Life. 365
It [science] frames every aspect of my daily life. The way I think, process and act on information, make sense of my world and even parent is a direct result of my science training.
Once you have been taught to ‘do’ science it never leaves you. Again Sarah so eloquently puts it: “I could never get science out of me, it’s in me now.” Sounds a bit like a Ridley Scott movie!
I thought a better way to think of ourselves is that we are critical thinkers. This term would also recognise self-taught ‘scientists’ that may not have had the privilege of an academic education.
The critical thinking skills we learnt are always in use whether it is researching a cure for cancer or deciding which car insurer to choose. I believe that it is a very important skill to make sound decisions that will impact upon you.
When discussions about levels of STEM education arise I think it would be beneficial to tell people that gaining skills to fairly compare apples with oranges is what you are really teaching students versus how to draw covalent bonds. The old adage “what is the point of learning this?” If you could say to parents, “Teaching critical thinking skills will help your child make better, well informed decision in their future life” sounds much more convincing than “Your child should learn science because they might need it one day” or “it is in the curriculum”.
I do not think that this skill can be overstated as it will guide almost every conscious decision you will make in your life.
For academic students, if you do not end up working in a research environment, you have not failed as a scientist as you will always be a scientist with valuable skills.