Science and Society

Why did you choose to study science?

For me, reading Virtual Organisms in high school nailed it (although it may always have been something of a fait accompli).

science: good for making toast (awesomeness taken from Invader Zim)
science: good for making toast (awesomeness taken from Invader Zim)

It’s certainly an interesting question, though, both for those of us who are still gainfully employed in science, and for those of us who now use our science superpowers for other purposes.

Dr Colin Hanbury, who is with the Graduate School of Education at the University of Western Australia, is trying to figure out why increasing numbers of Aussie high school kids aren’t choosing to study science.

In order to help him do so, he’s designed a questionnaire, open to people from any country, asking them, well, why they did choose to study science.

I’ve been in touch with Colin, and he said he’s particularly interested in comparing New Zealand and Australia.  Also, he’ll give me a shout when the results are ready, so stay tuned :)

In the meantime: go forth!  Fill out forms*!  Let’s get some pretty data to play with.

Also, if anyone happens to have to hand information on student enrollments in NZ, by subject, I’d be most keen to have a look…


* It’s a quick and painless procedure

  • Ana Claasen

    I was actually thinking about this today, I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to study science - it was just what I enjoyed at highschool and what I was good at. But when forced to take English in 6th form, I made the best of it by reading all the books in the ‘popular science’ category of our prescribed reading list, which included Oliver Sacks’ book, The man who mistook his wife for a hat. That book ignited an enduring fascination with neuroscience :)

    (Btw, the survey link is broken by an extra full stop/period at the end of it..)

  • Michael Edmonds

    Thanks for posting that Aimee. I’ve just done the questionnaire and it will be interesting to see the results.
    I’ve never quite been able to pinpoint why I chose a career in science. I was good at it at school and it just seemed like a good way to improve the world.
    I do remember a programme on TV many years ago called “Connections” which looked at how science progressed with one discovery leading onto another and which talked about the history and personalities as much as the science. This programme had me absolutely captivated. Also Carl Sagan’s work and science fiction programmes probably played a role.

    A couple of years ago I did the Myers Brigg test which classed me as an INTP (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceptive) and one of the careers recommended for this type was scientist (and also teacher).

    I’ve never quite decided whether scientists are born (nature) or made (nurture). I suspect it is a combination of both.

  • Steve Bell

    Because I wanted to understand how things [from atoms through levers to the Solar System] worked; because I thought science had done most to advance the practical happiness of humanity (probably more than literature and certainly more than religion – attending a RC school with touches of Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist” helped in the latter conclusion).

    The seminal book for me was called something like “Popular Mechanics for Young People”. It had little triptychs showing things “Man” did not do well and how science had closed the gap: “Man cannot see well; birds can; telescopes see for millions of miles.” “Man cannot smell well; dogs can; [vacant space; invention wanted].”

    My father told me never to forget that I could also write well and was interested in language. Good advice.

    When I left university with a Physics/Chemistry BSc I went into computing under the misguided impression it was (or might soon become) a science. I was disappointed (computing was funnelling me into commerce) and my attempts to return to pure science landed me in scientific publishing.

    Now I write about computers and related technologies.

  • aimee whitcroft

    I was always kinda interested in the way the world worked, too - something my dad was quite good about (he’s naturally curious, too). ‘Beyond 2000′ was a favourite TV programme :P

    And, yes, much science fiction. MUCH.

    Not surprising you’re an INTP! And yes, I agree - I think scientists have a natural propensity to be curious about why things are as they are, but encouragement is important if they’re to actually DO so. A prime example of this would be the gender disparities between girls and boys studying STEM (science, technology, maths and engineering).

  • Michal Denny

    Hi Aimee,,

    Check out this report comissioned by MoRST, Staying in Science, 2006.

    It looks at which students are taking science at Year 13 and their reasons for studying science. Will be interesting to see if there are similarities with Dr Hanbury’s results

  • gasstationwithoutpumps

    I filled out the questionnaire, but found several of the questions making really ridiculous assumptions (like that research and education were mutually exclusive job categories). They also assumed that everyone doing science trained in science. I trained in math and then computer science, not in “science”. Of course, they never bothered to define “science”, so it is not clear whether they intended to include or exclude engineering or engineering research.

  • Michael Edmonds

    Come on everyone, let’s hear what made you choose to study science? Curiosity, natural talent, a cute lab demostrator ….?

  • alison

    Well, both my parents were scientists (Dad worked for MAF & Mum taught biology), & it was the subject I got most enjoyment out of at school. Aided & abetted by the parents, who provided science-y books at every turn - plus we had a subscription to this UK kids’ mag called “Look & Learn”, which had a great deal of science in it. I suspect I would come out as an INTP too (although some of those I work with would no doubt disagree!)

  • Steve Bell

    I gave an answer 3 days ago; it’s still “awaiting moderation” and only shows up on the PC it was typed into. I don’t think I said anything too controversial :) Did it get lost?

    • aimee whitcroft

      Yup, Steve, sorry… Fixed now!