Is science me? High school students' identities, participation and aspirations in science, engineering, and medicine



This study follows an ethnically and economically diverse sample of 33 high school students to explore why some who were once very interested in science, engineering, or medicine (SEM) majors or careers decided to leave the pipeline in high school while others persisted. Through longitudinal interviews and surveys, students shared narratives about their developing science identities, SEM participation and aspirations. In analysis, three groups emerged (High Achieving Persisters, Low Achieving Persisters, and Lost Potentials), each experiencing different interactions and experiences within science communities of practice in and outside of school and within the extended family. These different microclimates framed students' perceptions of their SEM study, abilities, career options, and expected success, thereby shaping their science identities and consequent SEM trajectories. School science was often hard and discouraging; there were very few science advocates at school or home; and meaningful opportunities to work with real science professionals were scarce, even in schools with science or health academies. Students expressed positive attitudes toward science and non-science pursuits where they experienced success and received support from important people in their lives. Results underscore the key role communities of practice play in career and identity development and suggest a need for interventions to help socializers better understand the value and purpose of science literacy themselves so as to encourage students to appreciate science, be aware of possible career options in science and enjoy learning and doing science. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47: 564–582, 2010