What Does a Scientist Look Like?

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Students will be able to test their stereotypes about what a scientist looks like.

Big Idea

Did you know that most kids think that all scientists mix chemicals, wear lab coats and glasses, stand behind counters, and have crazy hair?

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

Science and Engineering Practices

2. Developing and using models

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


15 minutes

This is an interesting activity that involves the students drawing a picture of what a scientist looks like, then drawing a second picture of what they would look like doing science. They are building a model of their perception of science (S&E Prac 2: Developing and building models).

Most students will draw a stereotypical picture of what they think science is. A majority of the pictures will be of an old man, with crazy hair, beard, and glasses wearing a lab coat standing behind a lab desk, mixing chemicals (S&E Prac 8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information).

The secret to this assignment is to provide as little direction as possible. I have my students draw two pictures as separate assignments without any suggestions from me.

This sort of assignment has significant meaning, it show what kids think about science at a very root level. To them science is only about 'mixing chemical' (see example drawings), it is through my class that I hope to broaden their minds and show them that science is really a way of thinking (asking questions and searching for credible answers). The second drawing also holds individual significance, students don't always see themselves capable of doing something as difficult as science. It is my hope that this drawing fuels a passion for future study. I want to give them the tools to pursue their passions, whatever they might be. This second drawing also show some insight into what students are really into.

Picture #1 – Draw a scientist doing science.

I instruct my students that they will be drawing a picture, with color, of a scientist doing science. I purposely don’t provide any more instructions. Anything more I say will influence what they draw. While they are drawing I purposefully DON’T walk around the room to see their work and I certainly DON’T comment on what I see – more on that later.

TIP: I once provided an example that they could draw a picture of a scientist digging up dinosaur bones (paleontologist) and almost every student drew that picture. You want to know what they think, not what they think you want to see.

This assignment anchors my student's science interactive notebook as the first page.


Activity Review

5 minutes

After students have had time to draw, and it appears that they have finished, I play a little mind reading game. I tell them that, without seeing what they've drawn, I can predict what it looks like.

I tell them to raise their hand if I predict something in their drawing. I start out by telling them that they have drawn 1) a man, 2) with crazy hair, 3) long beards, 4) glasses, 5) wearing a lab coat, 6) standing by a table, 7) there are chemicals on the table, and 8) the scientist is mixing chemicals of different colors. 

The majority of hands will go up and the kids are shocked that I was able to predict their work (why I don’t walk around when they are working). I explain to my students that science is more than chemistry, and that girls do a lot of science. If anyone has done a drawing that is different than the stereotype, I make sure to make a big deal about it and make sure the class gets a chance to see their work. I've often prompted these students to share their work with the class, asking them to describe what is being done in the picture and what kind of science is represented.

Student Examples





Follow-Up Activity

25 minutes

Picture #2 - Draw themselves doing science.

As a second activity I have students draw a second picture, but this time they have to draw a picture of themselves doing science. After they have had time to finish, I ask them to share their work. As they describe what they are doing, I write the name of the profession on the board (see list below or use the Association of Zoos and Aquariums jobs board to prompt ideas).  When all the students have had time to share I let them know that the field of science has an unlimited amount of jobs and that many positions have not even been invented yet.

List of Scientists – Example






















petroleum geologist