Educator Guide for ‘Calling scientists of all colors’ | Science News for Students

Educator Guide for ‘Calling scientists of all colors’

Aug 24, 2017 — 8:00 am EST

The typical old image of a scientist was some white man in a lab coat. Many scientists still wear lab coats, but they’re becoming, overall, a more diverse group.


To accompany feature “Calling scientists of all colors”


What do you think it takes to be a scientist? When you think about it, all scientists started off just like your students — someone with interests and personal passions. These folks turned their passion into a career — and so can your students — by finding and following their interests along unique pathways.

Connections to Curricula

  • career pathways
  • research skills

Standards alignment

ELA Grades 6-12:

  • Informational text (RI): 1, 2, 4, 6
  • Writing (W): 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9

How to use this Science News for Students article

  1. Ask students to name types of work that require a science background. How many can your students think of? They might do this activity in small groups and write what they brainstorm together on a shared paper. [If students are not able to name very many, that’s ok.]
    1. Ask how they could add to their list — where could they look to find more? What key words would be best for an online search? Can they find some careers in science that didn’t exist even 5 years ago? Are there some that existed 10 years ago but no longer do? What does their research tell them about these fields of science? [i.e. The fields are changing; there are new jobs as technology changes.]
    2. Extension: Students could research the qualifications for a career path that interests them. What might they need to study in school? Do they need a college degree to pursue that career path [many don’t]?
  2. Ask students to draw a picture of a scientist.  Discuss any physical characteristics that they think would be most visible. [Often scientists will be portrayed with glasses, a lab coat, etc.] You can use these images to uncover what students think about scientists. You might discuss whether the images look like themselves.
    1. Consider these blogs on the Science News for Students site that deal with this issue: Students depict more scientists as women than ever; and How kids ‘see’ scientists depends on what they read. Ask the students to consider how outside influences can affect what careers seem cool? Appropriate? Inappropriate?
  3. Have students read the article and highlight the types of careers mentioned [medical illustrator, ecologist, research scientist, meteorologist, computer program writer, engineer, psychologist, research professor, chemist].
  4. Have students add careers to their list (from step 1) that might be missing.
    1. Extension: Group students to research each of the careers mentioned in the article using Blackline Master 1
  5. Introduce the concept of a “citizen scientist” and have students look into the many science apps available (for example, Eclipse Megamovie 2017, iNaturalist, Project Noah, Dead Bird Watch, Cricket Crawl, Bat Detective, Vanishing Firefly Project, Fireballs in the Sky). Discuss how students can become citizen scientists now and contribute to their field of interest. Discuss the difference between being a citizen scientist and an academically trained scientist or engineer — and how being involved in citizen science can benefit someone interested in a career in science. Have students try out one of the apps and write an argument as to why (or why not) others should become involved in this type of work, based on their new experience.
  6. Ask students to describe the term “diversity.” What does that mean? What does the article say about the role of diversity in the fields of math, science and engineering? Would students consider their classroom, school, city, state or nation diverse? Why is diversity considered a strength for an organization? Could diversity be as important, or more so, than skills of individuals within a group? [A study from 2004 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says, “[D]iversity trumps ability”.] What unique attributes can a diverse group working together bring to a situation or solving some problem?
  7. Zúñiga says that “if you’re feeling a bit dumb, it’s a sign that you’re learning something new.” Ask students how they know when they are learning something. What is the role of determination or persistence in attaining a career in science? How do students deal with tough days, disappointment and failure? Where do they go when they need help or are feeling unsuccessful? Students can research the resources available at their school and at universities to help students succeed. They also can assess whether those resources are utilized by those who need them most. Ask whether it is especially important to have support structures to help students who may be struggling in the fields of math, science and engineering?
  8. Have students share something that they love doing. Maybe they love drawing or searching for shells by a beach. Students can create a flowchart of steps they could take to go from where they are now to a career path that relates to that activity they love. Use Blackline Master 2 to help them map out one or more possible career paths.
  9. Ask students to think about what they would consider important when choosing an organization, company or school to prepare them for a specific career path. Do they: consider the reputation of the school or organization; look at the credentials of those running or teaching in the program; consider the location and diversity of the professors; consider the diversity of the students or other characteristics? Carlis from the article, for instance, talks about the personal time that teachers spend with students.
    1. Have students list all the traits they think should be considered and then rank them in terms of importance. They can use this list to rank their own school. They can use it when they talk with a college counselor or administrator, asking for data on where graduates go from their school versus another school of similar size. Students can discuss how the data tell a story about the culture of the school and the choices that its students make.   

Blackline Master 1: Learn more about careers

Name of the career you are researching: ________________________________________________

Careers in science are changing all the time. What can you find out about what it takes to become this type of scientist? Review the questions below. Decide how your group will divide up the questions and research answers.

  1. Educational background: What kind of background is needed to enter this field? If you wanted to work in this field, would you need to go to college? If so, for how long? What would you study? What type(s) of degrees would you need? If you don’t need to go to college, how do you get started in the field?
  2. Jobs: Take a look at some job postings using online search engines like, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, etc.  What type of experience is needed to get a job in the field you are researching?
  3. Are there people doing this work where you live? If so, consider contacting one for an interview about their work. If not, are there people who work in the field with a web-based presence that you could contact to learn more about their work?
  4. What do you think would be most interesting about working in this field? What might be most challenging?
  5. If you were to talk with someone who wanted to enter this field, what advice would you give them? What would you tell them to do?

Blackline Master 2: Career pathway

Year you are in school: _____________________

Your current skills and knowledge related to this career path:

What do you need to do before graduation to be better positioned to work in this field?

What are the entry-level or stepping-stone jobs that would prepare you for this career path?

What do you need to do after high school? If you need to attend college, what should you major in?

Names of companies that are looking for people to hire in your field of interest:

Experiences you could have (outside school) to help you build your knowledge and skills for this profession: