Learning Science vs Learning to Become a Scientist

I finally met my fellow Fearless Rainbow Unicorn Musketeers last Friday! It was a fast-paced, interactive session on pedagogical content knowledge*.

In one of the many activities, we were asked to generate a list of seven qualities of practitioners in our own respective disciplines. This task proved surprisingly challenging for me, despite the fact that I am a research scientist who works at the bench and interacts with numerous other scientists on a daily basis. I think it was partly because this important, big-picture question was never explicitly posed to me; while I have reflected on how I would like to engage with the world as a scientifically-trained individual on occasions, I haven’t spent much time in verbalizing/identifying the qualities that I value in a scientist.

It took me a while, but these were some fragmented thoughts that I managed to capture:

  1. detail-oriented
  2. unbiased observers
  3. critical appraisal of evidence
  4. formulate and defend opinion/ideas anchored in evidence
  5. seeking creative ways to improve current medical interventions
  6. logical thinking and analysis
  7. good communicator

I think one important quality that I missed to include here and one that I try to spark in my learners was curiosity. I think curiosity or the thirst for a more coherent understanding of the world around us is one of the key intrinsic motivations for one to pursue science. It became apparent to me that these qualities I value (and would expect) in a fellow scientist explain why I am involved in various science-related extra-curricular activities (e.g., knowledge translation, high school student mentoring, and community educational outreach).

The jolt of panic kicked in when we were then asked to eliminate four qualities from our lists, because it proved even more difficult than the first task! It required even more introspection around what is my definition of a responsible scientist – one who is able to critically evaluate and objectively interpret evidence, formulate opinion or make informed decision based on evidence, and to engage in discussions with others who are not scientifically trained.

  1. detail-oriented
  2. unbiased observers
  3. critical appraisal of evidence
  4. formulate and defend opinion/ideas anchored in evidence
  5. seeking creative ways to improve current medical interventions
  6. logical thinking and analysis
  7. good communicator

The last instruction was to further distill the list down to one single quality, at which point I wished that I had a shorter list to start with or that I could create a word that combines all qualities of a scientist! I think this process helped to illuminate what I truly value in a scientist, as a scientist:

  1. detail-oriented
  2. unbiased observers
  3. critical appraisal of evidence
  4. formulate and defend opinion/ideas anchored in evidence
  5. seeking creative ways to improve current medical interventions
  6. logical thinking and analysis
  7. good communicator

To me, science is not merely the pursuit of knowledge about the world around us; I think science represents a diverse set of tools or an ever-evolving model that guides us in how we adaptively and responsibly interact with the world as a collective. This activity emphasized my personal objective in engaging with science and highlighted how the scientific community – the good, the bad, and the ugly – influenced my view about the discipline.

Now, the lingering question is: how could I create space and encourage my learners to explore what science means to them and reflect on their own position in the discipline? how could I effectively facilitate their learning processes in integrating and in embodying these important qualities of a scientist?


* my working definition of pedagogical content knowledge is: knowledge about how to reorganize and transform discipline-specific concepts/ideas/information in such a way that is accessible for diverse learners’ comprehension/integration and how to select appropriate educational methods and strategies to facilitate their learning processes.