The Scientist’s Mindset

Education is set up in such a way that students are judged by their ability to perform a very specific skill which is completing timed assessments. Entire educations (mine was) can be set up with this in mind! With this being an end goal, we set up systems that equate performance in tests with mastery of a subject such as science.

For science (and indeed most other subjects) the very notion that doing well in a timed assessment means that you are a “good scientist” is absurd. Doing well in a timed assessment tells me:

  • You are good at timed assessments
  • You are able to memorise and apply concepts
  • You MIGHT be a good scientist

Notice the emphasis on the might. You MIGHT be a good scientist. I don’t know for sure if you are. I know for sure you are good at timed assessments. Are you a good scientist? I’m sure you could be, but you’ll have to show me in some other way for me to be satisfied.

This got me thinking about the difference between doing well in timed assessments and having a good scientist’s mindset. If a student can adopt a scientist’s Mindset then they will keep learning beyond the curriculum. They will see opportunities for learning more about the universe everywhere. They will become changemakers. They will become inventors. They will create and transform the world. If they leave as just good test takers, well, they will be good at ticking boxes, that’s for sure.

So, what is the Scientist’s Mindset? My thoughts are laid out in the figure below. Some of the terminology is based on Carol Dweck’s growth mindset (see here for more details). There are definite parallels in and some areas I have simply adapted this mindset to make it more appropriate for science. It is definitely not a finished article and I would love your input. What do you think the characteristics of a Scientist’s Mindset are? 

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 11.25.52.png

Note: Thanks to Nicki Hambleton and Kirstie Parker for their thoughts on creativity and divergent thinking, which I have now incorporated into the “Scientist’s Mindset”.

11 thoughts on “The Scientist’s Mindset

  1. Your post has really echoed what I have been going to war with my whole educational career. I am not good at timed assessments, but I can apply the skills well in other times. Thank you for bringing this forward.
    It is a great eye opener.


    1. Hi Annabelle,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post! What a war to be waging! You are facing it head on and that is admirable.

      When you say, “I am not good at timed assessments”, what do you mean exactly by this? For my thoughts on how timed assessments are a skill that can be developed, take a look here: Particularly useful might be to look at the comment by Tricia Friedman. I think she nails it pretty much!

      It’s great that you are able to apply the skill well in other times. What are these times?


  2. I personally feel that being openminded and being curious are one of the most important mindsets to have as a scientist. I think that I feel this way is because when a person is being openminded or curious, they want to take risks, collaborate and accept where they went wrong so they can work on it and change it. Without taking risks you won’t be able to stumble across new discoveries (or whatever). So, I think that to define a “good scientist” would mean to find a person who had all of these 8 mindsets.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ananya. Completely agree that risk-taking is crucial in science. As scientists, we take a risk every time we write a hypothesis, make a prediction, try to explain a phenomenon, publish our work, try to explain a concept to someone, try to add to scientific understanding. We are at constant risk of failing and an important mindset approach is to say “hey, that didn’t work. Now I know more about what doesn’t work, I’m getting closer to what does!”

      These 8 things in the diagram are characteristics of a scientist’s mindset. I’m not sure that at any one point, you will find many people with all of these characteristics to perfection. It is about constant growth in these areas! Which one do you think you are strongest in and why? Which one might you need to develop and how might you do that?


  3. Hi Louis, I love the graphic and concur with your thinking but I think you should include creativity or st least creative thinking in your Scientist’s mindset. Without creativity I am sure so many theories, inventions and scientific breakthroughs would not have been possible. Through play and experimenting, trial and error, scientists are able to prove or disprove an idea and this is inherent in creative people. I love debating this with a certain Physics teacher and he agrees creativity is hard to teach. We must model thinking out loud and show students how scientists’ thinking arises, balanced with the facts and knowledge that needs to be taught. How do you teach your students to be more creative in Science? I’d love to know more!


    1. Hi Nicki,

      Thanks for the comment!

      The graphic is a work in progress. My next step is to turn it into a sketchnote that it much more beautiful (but I don’t yet have the drawing skills!).

      I can’t believe I overlooked creativity. I am always going on about how science is a creative subject and get really frustrated when people just view the arts as creative. Science is fundamentally creative!

      I see creativity as being the gap between asking questions and risk-taking. How do you develop something that you can take a risk with and share?

      In terms of teaching creativity, I think it is very much about scaffolding to allow the students the space to be creative. For example, we might gradually build up their questioning and experimental skills. Once they are a questioner and can design and carry out experiments, they can then be set off on a creative quest to discover something new!

      Another post is needed here…..

      Thanks for moving my thinking forward here!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That would be amazing. I have an iPad (normal one, not a pro) and a cheapish pen thing to draw on it with. Are there any apps you would recommend for sketchnoting on iPad?


  4. Exceedingly enlightening and true! Perhaps another skill would be to be eager to learn as I believe that fuels the hunger for knowledge and the ability to overcome obstacles!!


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