Doing > Being


“Charles A.Lindbergh Perfusion Pump | Science Museum Group Collection” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA NULL

Having a love of science, I naturally was interested in the pipeline from starting to learn to becoming a scientist. Fleur has a couple strikes against her in the current environment in that she is not white and female. We are a long way from getting there, but of course, I am interested in foundation work now. The framing nudge described below is interesting. I think it probably applies to many different kinds of interests. People who conceive of themselves as capable of doing the work are more likely to have an interest in doing it than those who think of themselves as budding members of the job.

Ryan Lei and colleagues recruited 212 children in 2nd and 3rd grade (about 7-9 years old) at two diverse publicly funded schools in New York City. The kids were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group always received “identity-focused” language about science (that implied that scientists are a specific category of people), while the other always received “action-focused” language (that implied science is an activity that anyone can do).

For instance, at the beginning of the study the kids saw a video that introduced them to the scientific process. For the identity-focused group, the narrator of the video used phrases like “scientists make thoughtful guesses to help them learn about the world”. The action-focused group, on the other hand, heard language like “when people do science, they make thoughtful guesses to help them learn about the world”.

At three points across the academic year, the children answered questions measuring their attitudes towards science, including their levels of interest (either how much they wanted to “be a scientist” or “do science”, depending on the group they were in), and how good they thought they’d be (either at “being a scientist” or “doing science”). At the second and third testing points, they were also asked to judge how many parents of other children at school “were scientists” or “did science”.

Overall, the children in the action-focused group had a greater interest in “doing science” than those in the identity-focussed group had in “being a scientist”. The action-focused group also rated themselves higher in their scientific abilities, and they thought that more adults “did science” compared with how many people the identity group thought “were scientists”.

Five Books a Day

Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to, a new study found.

This makes sense to me. Keep in mind this is a number over what kids whose parents do not regularly read to them. The more one reads the more exposure. More exposure improves vocabulary by tuning the brain in this critical period to the acquisition of it.

At these volumes, variety is needed to maintain novelty and stimulation. That means a personal library probably is not going to cut it unless you are wealthy. Fleur has a couple hundred books already. I expect her to have a healthy library. But, we will need to supplement with the library or hanging out in a bookstore.

Libraries also have programs for encouraging reading. A thousand books seem to be the target for the programs I see. But, I think that is the kid reading not being read to.

I don’t want to grow up…

Adam Grant has an interesting opinion piece on helping kids decide what they want to do when they grow up. His problems with asking what job a kid wants to have when they grow up are:

  1. Self-defining in terms of work. Parents tend to say they want their children to value caring about others. The question instead has kids valuing caring about success.
  2. Self-limiting. The question implies there is one soulmate job for the child. Not having a calling sows confusion and aimlessness. And a calling might not be better as a hobby or volunteer service instead of a viable career. (So the kid needs a career that allows them to pursue the calling.)
  3. False expectations. This one really resonated with me. I wanted to pursue engineering until I realized I hated doing all the math. I wanted to pursue educational psychology until I realized I would have to be a teacher for a few years. Librarian was more reasonable as I worked in a library assisting the degreed folks. I understood the academic librarian situation pretty well (but not public or other librarian types).

I’m all for encouraging youngsters to aim high and dream big. But take it from someone who studies work for a living: those aspirations should be bigger than work. Asking kids what they want to be leads them to claim a career identity they might never want to earn. Instead, invite them to think about what kind of person they want to be — and about all the different things they might want to do.