How Do You Inspire Future Chemists?

Careers in Chem

I recently spoke with a chemist from industry that said that if she admits to being a chemist, it is a serious conversation ender. I can relate! I know many of you can to. My colleague, Greg Rushton, shared a similar sentiment in an article introducing himself to the JCE community.

I know a biology teacher that shows a power point stating that chemistry is "evil". He tells his students that chemistry is filled with contradictions, has no patterns and is very difficult to learn. He thinks his power point slide is cute and doesn't understand why I am so irritated that he is negatively influencing the attitudes of students the year before they are to be enrolled in chemistry.

As chemistry teachers, we already have to hurdle many negative perceptions of incoming students. We do what we can to show students that chemistry is all around them. What else can we do? How do we encourage students to pursue chemistry as a career? How do we encourage students (especially girls) to stick with chemistry as a major once they have declared?

I am speaking anecdotically when I say that it seems my students that leave high school with a specific career goal are much more likely to perservere through the tough courses than the student who is "thinking" that they might end up with a career in science. I would like to test my theory that students that can keep their eye on a specific goal have a better attitude about those tough courses and stick it out. I think that students that have vague ambitions are more likely to modify their goals to something that doesn't seem so rigorous. I wonder about the STEM programs for girls that I see advertised around the country and if there has been research that supports their expense. Are they successful in getting more girls to enter science majors and then stick with them? I need to check out the research. Should we advertise chemistry careers more? Would it help if we collaborated with college research groups that will come in and share what is on the cutting edge of chemistry? What about industry? Will they be willing to collaborate and speak with our students and provide a face that is not so intimidating? I know some of these things are going on, but I am not sure which avenue gives the most bang for the buck.

What do you do to encourage your students? Do you have suggestions for preparing our high school students for the rigors of the college chemistry curriculum?

I will be creating blog posts about some of the ways that I have tried to encourage my own students. As I follow teachers on social media, I have been inspired to try a few new ideas. I invite you to share your thoughts here. But, I also challenge you to write those ideas up in a formal way and submit them for publication at ChemEdX so that other teachers will have the tools to incorporate the plan into their own courses. I will be happy to provide support for putting your manuscript together.

Check out this blog that I have been following.  (I follow Julia Winter  @OChemPrep on Twitter.) The reading/writing lesson links to expectations of science literacy and technology. I think it is also an avenue for inspiring students to pursue a career STEM career.






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Comments 2

Erica Posthuma's picture
Erica Posthuma | Mon, 01/27/2014 - 16:52

Several of my students have participated in Project SEED which is part of the larger Project Lead the Way.  They had the opporutnity to work with research groups at local universities.  Each of the students who were accepted into the program went on to declare majors in the sciences.  

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Mon, 02/10/2014 - 13:59

I got a responses on Twitter about my blog post. I didn't mean to imply that encouraging students to pursue a career in science is a necessity. It is one of my own personal goals and I know that it is a goal of many other science teachers. My students look to me for information about careers in science and I know that many of my students with an aptitude for science have appreciated my encouragement and direction. I feel that looking at careers in science will help some students find a career goal. Other students may pursue a completely unrelated career in the end, but having an understanding of how important chemistry careers are for all of us makes the topic more applicable to them and increases their interest in our discussions. We all have our own methods and beliefs when it comes to education. If this approach isn't for you, I am alright with that.