Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 1455–1476 | Cite as

Nerdy, Brainy and Normal: Children’s and Parents’ Constructions of Those Who Are Highly Engaged with Science

  • Jennifer DeWittEmail author
  • Louise Archer
  • Jonathan Osborne


There is a continuing international concern about a decline in the pursuit of post-compulsory science. One suggested cause concerns the role that young people's narrow perceptions of scientists may play in deterring them from pursuing science qualifications and careers. Research would suggest that the ages of 10–14 appear to be a critical period for the development of such views. This paper looks at the early part of this period, when general liking for science is high, although views on science careers as ‘not for me’ also appear to be forming. Drawing on data collected from interviews conducted with 92 children and 78 parents (in which children described peers who are ‘really into’ science and parents described those who are likely to pursue a career in science), we examine the constructions children and parents have of those who are highly engaged with science. In the interviews, participants evoked a range of constructions, some of which were closely aligned with traditional stereotypical images of science and scientists (e.g. as ‘geeky’) while others moderated and/or challenged those images. Although very few participants held explicitly ‘negative’ representations of science/scientists, our analysis shows how popular constructions of science as ‘specialist’ and ‘clever’ may feed into an understanding of science as different and not for me. It is argued that more work needs to be done to open up science as a field that is accessible ‘for all’ and to increase students' awareness of the breadth of careers in and from science.


Attitudes Aspirations Identity Images of scientists Peers 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer DeWitt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Louise Archer
    • 1
  • Jonathan Osborne
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Education and Professional StudiesKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Stanford University School of EducationStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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