The first thing I do with my incoming first year biotechnology class is to give a lecture on the “10 types of scientist”. The lecture is based on this study by the Science Council in the UK, a study that was brought to my attention by Julie Dowsett, programme manager with the pioneering Agri-Food Graduate Development Programme based in UCD and UCC.
I then ask my students to write a 500-word personal statement in which they reveal which of the 10 types of scientists they would like to become. It’s a handy way for me to assess their writing skills and in general I’m pretty impressed, something that makes me think that some, or even many, third level students regress without the supports they have had during their second level studies.
Anyway, the overwhelming message that comes across from the students’ statements is that of impact. Young students don’t claim to be fascinated by the discovery process itself, or to be driven by some sort of innate curiosity, a “need to know”. Instead, they are almost unanimous in their desire to improve the lives of others, especially the sick. Some are honest and admit that they would like to make shed loads of cash in the process!
I have to say that this has surprised me because my view has always been that we should try to attract young people into science by emphasising what science is rather than what science can achieve.
Mind you, it’s early days yet and it will be interesting to see how their views change, or how they don’t, over the coming four years.