Eyeballs in the Fridge: Sources of early interest in science

September 2, 2014, 1:51:16


Maltese, A., Tai, R., 2010, International Journal of Science Education, 32, 5, 669-685

There are many things that can influence whether an individual becomes a scientist. This study is based on the researchers’ belief that student interest in science is based on a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic experiences. The study focused on individuals with experience in a Ph.D. program in chemistry or physics, specifically, and attempted to quantify these influences, answering questions such as 1) what was the timing of an individual’s initial science interest? (i.e. when did it happen?), 2) who was responsible for sparking the interest (i.e. who did it?), and 3) what was the nature of the initial experiences (i.e. what happened?).

Does not apply

Does not apply

Approximately 25% of the participant interviews were performed in person and the remainder were conducted by phone. The interviews were semi-structured, meaning the interviewers followed a script but were free to ask probing questions, where needed. Each interview was recorded, and all recordings were transcribed. The interview texts were imported into a qualitative data analysis program and the text coded for early interest in science. The codes developed from the data, and sentences and paragraphs were coded (rather than individual words). Instances of participants mentioning an early interest in science were coded to identify the timing of events, the source, and the nature of the experience; 85 of the 116 interviews included data related to early interest in science. Data reported in the article also include the numbers of females vs. males, the work experience level of the interviewees, and the numbers of chemists vs. physicists.

The participants in the study included graduate students, as well as practicing and retired scientists. Individuals were contacted by email and phone. All of the participants were located in the United States.

The article does not specify how many people were initially contacted versus the number of people who took part in the study.


Sixty-five percent of the interviewees indicated a pre-middle school interest in science. Forty-five percent of respondents said that their initial science interest source was an intrinsic self-interest. Forty percent of respondents said that school-based experiences were the key to sparking their interest in science. Further delving into the data showed that for women, school-based experiences were most important factors, but for men, intrinsic (self-motivating) factors were most important. Finally, teachers were shown to be very important in student science involvement, not just through the content they teach but through cognitive and affective support of students, engaging students with different interests, providing an engaging classroom environment, providing an environment where students feel comfortable to ask questions, and using a wide variety of teaching methodologies.

A large fraction of the interviewees indicated a pre-middle school interest in science. If supported by future research, this may have significant implications for programs that target secondary-level students as the key to retaining student interest and supporting future student attainment of science careers. This study shows that there may be (possibly more) significant factors that play a part in student science interest other than the level of teacher training and increasing student understanding of concepts.

Descriptive: Case study

Interviews with individuals occurred between September 2005 and September 2006.



United States of America



Higher ed: Graduate

Higher ed: Post-doctoral

Higher education professionals

Professionals in non-educational fields


Communications/Public Engagement

Formal Education

Informal Education

Interest in STEM



Elementary/Primary School



High school


Middle school





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