Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 60-73

First online:

How Middle Schoolers Draw Engineers and Scientists

  • Bethany FralickAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, University of South Carolina
  • , Jennifer KearnAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, University of South CarolinaCenter for Engineering and Computing Education, University of South Carolina
  • , Stephen ThompsonAffiliated withDepartment of Instruction and Teacher Education, University of South Carolina
  • , Jed LyonsAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, University of South Carolina Email author 

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The perceptions young students have of engineers and scientists are often populated with misconceptions and stereotypes. Although the perceptions that young people have of engineers and of scientists have been investigated separately, they have not been systematically compared. The research reported in this paper explores the question “How are student perceptions of engineers and scientists similar and how are they different?” Approximately 1,600 middle school students from urban and suburban schools in the southeastern United States were asked to draw either an engineer or a scientist at work. Drawings included space for the students to explain what their person was doing in the picture. A checklist to code the drawings was developed and used by two raters. This paper discusses similarities and differences in middle school perceptions of scientists and engineers. Results reveal that the students involved in this study frequently perceive scientists as working indoors conducting experiments. A large fraction of the students have no perception of engineering. Others frequently perceive engineers as working outdoors in manual labor. The findings have implications for the development and implementation of engineering outreach efforts.


Draw Scientist Engineer Middle school Perception