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ABSTRACT

This paper explores the research perspective of neuroscience by documenting the brain cell (neuron) drawings of undergraduates, trainee scientists, and leading neuroscience researchers in a single research-intensive university. Qualitative analysis, drawing-sorting exercises, and hierarchical cluster analysis are used to answer two related questions: Are there categorical differences in drawings of participants; and if differences exist, can they be objectively recognized as measures of research experience? The analysis strongly suggests that (1) a willingness/ability to hybridize extant brain cell knowledge with imaginative conjecture grounded by experience of experimental plausibility gives rise to drawings that are recognized as being “expert signatures” by all classes of participants; (2) the drawings of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers’ are influenced by a more mechanical observation style where faithfulness to actual observation work is prioritized; and (3) while a subset of undergraduates recognize the images of “experts,” their own drawings are invariably textbook reproductions. Nevertheless, teaching interventions designed to engender a research perspective free-up undergraduates’ creative drawing potential so that sometimes their postintervention drawings are indistinguishable from those of principal investigators. We explore the teaching implications of our data, emphasizing the distinctive role of the principal investigator who is able to index an otherwise invisible process of experimental knowledge making. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 97:468–491, 2013