Students have been reported to have stereotypical views of scientists as middle-aged white men in lab coats. We argue that a way to provide students with a more realistic view of scientists and their work is to provide them with the opportunity to interact with scientists during short, discussion-based sessions. For that reason, 20 scientists from 8 professional areas were asked to share their experiences of becoming and being a scientist, in short sessions with groups of 7–8 students. The student sample consisted of 223 students between 13 and 15 years. Student and scientist questionnaires were used before and after the sessions to assess students’ views of scientists and their work, and scientists’ experiences of interacting with students. The pre-session questionnaires revealed that students considered scientists as ‘boring’ and ‘nerdy’ whereas after the sessions students focused extensively on how ‘normal’ the scientists appeared to be. The face-to-face interactions with scientists allowed students to view scientists as approachable and normal people, and to begin to understand the range of scientific areas and careers that exist. Scientists viewed the scientist–student interactions as a vehicle for science communication. Implications discussed include the need for future training courses to focus on developing science communicators’ questioning and interaction skills for effective interactions with students.
- scientist-student interactions
- secondary education
- scientists' views of public engagement