Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Carol Smith

Second Advisor

Patricia S. Davidson

Third Advisor

Steven Schwartz


Advocates for improving science literacy have focused much attention on the negative impressions about science and scientists held by many Americans. The image of scientists as 'nerdy' bespectacled men in laboratories has been related by some researchers to people's lack of interest in pursuing science. This thesis analyzes one component of a program aimed at changing that stereotype. The Science-By-Mail (tm) program at the Museum of Science in Boston was designed to give students a more inclusive image of scientists. Central to the program was the creation of pen-pal relationships between students in grades 4-9 with scientists who did not fit the stereotype. The correspondence was driven by a set of hands-on science challenges, which included a variety of experiments. The activities introduced students to science as an engaging process of critical thought and exploration. To determine participants' images of scientists changed, an empirical study was performed. Pretest and posttest questionnaires, consisting of five questions related to student images of science and scientists, were distributed to all participants. Responses from all students who returned both components on the evaluation were matched to form a test population of 217 pair, and analyzed using series of statistical tests. Only one of the five questions, "What does a scientist look like?" was analyzed. This question was seen as the most likely to elicit responses were evaluated to determine the number of exclusive indicators, such as "all scientists wear lab coats," as well as inclusive indicators, such as " a scientist looks like anyone." The stereotype's existence before the intervention was confirmed. The average number of exclusive indicators decreased significantly from pretest to posttest, regardless of age or gender of subject, gender of pen-pal scientist, or number of correspondences exchanged. No single feature of the program could be isolated as necessary for producing change, but overall the data showed a positive shift in students' images of scientists. The results prompted questions for further investigations into the causes and effects of the stereotype of scientists.