What A Scientist Really Looks Like

Albert Einstein photograph
Courtesy of Sebastian Niedlich via Creative Commons.

The stereotypical  image of a scientist looks something like Albert Einstein, an older white man with either wild hair or almost none. The media often reinforces this image of a “mad scientist” in a white lab coat. But in reality, scientists are just a diverse group of people that mostly look and act like everyone else.

This scientist stereotype has been informally studied by at least two major scientific laboratories, Fermilab and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. About 12 years ago, a group of seventh graders came for a regular field trip to Fermilab. Few young people have ever knowingly met a scientist. So Fermilab had these students draw and describe what they thought a scientist looked like, both before and after going on the tour. While at Fermilab, the students met a diverse selection of real life scientists, including speaking in small groups with a typical white male, a young female and an African American male physicist. Before their field trip, the students mostly drew the stereotypical white man wearing a lab coat. However, their drawings after the tour were much more diverse and casually dressed.

Such studies have inspired a small group of people to demonstrate what a scientist is really like. Also inspired by Science Online 2012, they recently created a website where scientists can post a photograph and short description of themselves. Their hope is to challenge the stereotypical perception of a scientist. If you are a scientist and interested in joining their efforts, you can easily submit your photograph to be uploaded on their “This Is What A Scientist Looks Like” home page. However, I hope everyone enjoys the ever-expanding collection of photographs.

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Author: Jennifer Huber

I was a medical imaging scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with more than 20 years of experience in academic science writing. I received my Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California Santa Barbara. I am now a full-time freelance science writer and science-writing instructor. I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of my life and I frequently enjoy the eclectic cultural, culinary and outdoor activities available in the area.

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