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You don’t really look like a marine scientist. You kinda look like a surfer.

Riley Hathaway

These are Riley Hathaway’s first words when meeting marine ecologist Dr Tim Haggitt. Riley’s not alone in thinking scientists have a particular profile. Research shows that students often perceive scientists as eccentric older men who work alone. This perception makes it difficult for students to relate to scientists and may limit their engagement in science.

A classroom visit by a scientist can make a big difference. After meeting scientists, students realise scientists are real people with whom they may share interests or hobbies. Students also discover that scientists work collaboratively to help solve local, relevant issues. That’s a big step away from the eccentric loner stereotype.

Seeing scientists as real people

Research shows that students are influenced by scientists’ passion for science, and this encourages them to make links with the scientists and to consider careers in science. It is not realistic for scientists to visit classrooms on a regular basis, but students can see them in action in other ways.

Riley Hathaway interviews experts in each of the Young Ocean Explorers episodes. The experts are also profiled in the Meet the Gurus pages in the book Love Our Ocean. For example, in addition to being a kelp expert, Riley finds that Dr Tim Haggitt (episode 8) likes punk rock music, was “pretty rubbish” at many school subjects and is scared by octopuses because “they’re way smarter than I’ll ever be and they enjoy stealing your pencil, datasheets and in some cases, dive mask”.

Dr Karen Stockin, marine mammal expert (episode 7), likes being a scientist because every day is different. Her job at Massey University’s Auckland campus involves working with students, writing research papers, helping to free stranded whales and even doing post-mortems on dead marine mammals.

What makes someone a scientist?

One definition of the word scientist is “a person who is engaged in and has expert knowledge in science, especially a biological or physical science”. The gurus that feature in Young Ocean Explorers are certainly scientists, but what about Riley? Can children be scientists?

The research article We are scientists says, “Students not only need to learn the ‘what’ (concepts) of science but also ‘how’ to do the learning in science – how to think, question, search for evidence and put evidence together to make an argument that is acceptable in science.” In other words, students need to learn to work as scientists.

In each Young Ocean Explorers episode, Riley makes observations, asks questions and puts it all together to make statements about what she has discovered. So yes, children can be scientists. Like Dr Tim Haggitt, Riley doesn’t look like a scientist, but she does inspire others to enjoy and care for the worlds’ oceans – and that passion may well influence some students to become marine ecologists!

More on the Hub

Videos are a convenient way to bring scientists into classrooms. Read about the advantages of using videos in this short research brief.
Scientists talking to students through videos

These video clips show marine scientists at work and at play.
Becoming a marine scientist
What’s an ecologist?

Nature of Science

Science as a solitary pursuit is one of several misconceptions about scientists. Scientists often work together and examine and share knowledge about their work.

Useful links

Go here to purchase a copy of the Young Ocean Explorers DVD and Love Our Ocean book.

Visit the new interactive Young Ocean Explorers website aimed at primary school students.

    Published 21 January 2016 Referencing Hub articles