Science at Work: Perceptions and Products

Science and Stereotypes

Figure 1: An elementary-age student's drawing of a scientist (Huber and Burton, 1995).

Figure 1: An elementary-age student’s drawing of a scientist (Huber and Burton, 1995).

In its original conception, the main goal of SciencePensieve was to show the scientific method at work! Thus, this blog is not only a communication tool on the progress of this NOAA-funded project, but also a tool to help bridge the public’s understanding of how scientists approach a problem in order to provide the best data possible for our decision-makers.

But let’s start at the basics of the public’s perception of a scientist at work. There have been numerous studies asking the simple question to an elementary-aged student: Draw a Scientist!

Time and time again, students draw a white male working alone in a Frankenstein-esque lab, often with “mad-scientist” hair (Huber and Burton, 1995; Eugster, 2011). This stereotypical image is harmful to actual scientists since it masks the public’s awareness of the work and effort involved in many items they use everyday!

Figure 2: A rain garden in Centreville, Maryland designed to help reduce storm water runoff.

Figure 2: A rain garden in Centreville, Maryland designed to help reduce storm water runoff.

For example, many of the beautiful gardens in Maryland are rain gardens. Rain gardens are designed using the best available scientific and engineering practices in an effort to reduce pollutants from storm water runoff and limit the amount of standing water that gathers on roads, among other benefits (Clayton and Schueler, 1996; Dietz and Clausen, 2005). These gardens, to this day, are still a subject of cutting edge science to try to create the most effective and cost efficient product while helping to preserve the Bay.

But perhaps one of the most intriguing stereotypes of the “scientist” is that we work alone in a lab. This is almost never the case. Science, especially in estuarine studies, is a multidisciplinary field, meaning that multiple types of expertise is needed. For this project, I am not a scientist working alone in a lab (or at a computer in my case). Rather, I am part of a diverse team who are combining our skills and minds together to create the best hypotheses to test, the best approaches to those questions, and how to tackle all the nuisance problems that come up along the way (there are many!).

My take-home message: Scientists are not isolated “mad-scientists” who instantly make a break through. Scientists are part of a team who have to try and try again to collect and organize data and then interpret that information into something useful. You, the public, may only ever see our final outcome, but often that outcome took years of trial and error before it ended up in your hands, or garden!

Our Revised Scientific Approach

Figure 1: Conceptual model of the DPSIR framework used to approach this project.

Figure 3: Conceptual model of the modified DPSIR framework used to approach this project (original post published on February 6th, 2015).

A while back, I published our open-ended approach to this research project. Unlike other research projects, our testable hypothesis was more of an open-ended framework rather than a tangible question. This original and fluid structure was our foundation and helped set the stage for our first product: the massive climate white paper report currently in draft.

However, as we are beginning to move into the next phase of this project, a more detailed framework was needed. Enter the DPIRS framework 2.0 (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The new and improved DPIRS framework for this project!

Figure 4: The new and improved DPIRS framework for this project, with our “Marsh Story” briefly outlined.

After the second Think Tank meeting, a “matrix” of potential “analytical stories” was created and emailed to our CBNERR partners (Figure 5). Their instructions were to score each potential research project based on these 4 criteria: 1) Sparks interest and excitement, 2) feasible based on your resources and available data sets, 3) stakeholder interest, and 4) this analysis  would be immediately useful. We also left room for other ideas or product outcomes.

After we got back the responses, and some discussion, our next “story” was clear. Very briefly, this second project will involve the question: how will salinity regimes in Chesapeake Bay change and how will that loss (or switch from fresh to salt) effect important ecosystem services in Chesapeake Bay?

Stay tuned as we start to think as a collaborative team to tackle this question! Just remember that the white paper report we produce will be the result of many meetings, data analyses, model interpretations, and, of course, a massive literature review!

Figure 5: The "Matrix" of all potential ideas for the next chapter in this project!

Figure 5: The “Matrix” of all potential ideas for the next chapter in this project!

Works Cited

Claytor, Richard A., and Thomas R. Schueler. Design of stormwater filtering systems. Chesapeake Research Consortium, 1996.

Dietz, Michael E., and John C. Clausen. “A field evaluation of rain garden flow and pollutant treatment.” Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 167, no. 1-4 (2005): 123-138.

Eugster, Peter. “The perception of Scientists.” The Science Creative Quarterly 6 (2011).

Huber, Richard A., and Grace M. Burton. “What do students think scientists look like?.” School Science and Mathematics 95, no. 7 (1995): 371-376.

Kari Pohl

About Kari Pohl

I am a post-doctoral researcher at NOAA and the University of Maryland (Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory). My work investigates how climate variability and extremes affect the diverse ecosystems in Chesapeake Bay. I received a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island (2014) and received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Chemistry from Roger Williams University (2009). When I am not busy being a scientist, my hobbies include running, watching (and often yelling at) the Boston Bruins, and taking photos of my cat.
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