Draw a scientist and give them a name

The Women & Science group of the Spanish Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM) studies gender stereotypes in science through a drawing contest.
Draw a scientist and give them a name
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The Women & Science group of the Spanish Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM) was created in 2021 with the aim of establishing a meeting point to carry out initiatives that contribute to improving the visibility of women in science, as well as to discuss about gender biases and barriers that penalize the advancement of women in research careers. The group, headed by Dr. María Mayán (INIBIC, Coruña), is composed by nine female scientist who come from different regions of Spain and also have complementary expertise and specializations. Since 2021, several activities related to science and art or science and leadership have been carried out from a female perspective. One of the activities that have been maintained over time and held annually is a drawing contest for primary school students called "Draw a scientist and give them a name".

This contest was inspired by a study carried out in the USA by Miller et al. (2018), where 20,860 drawings, made by 5-18 years old students over the last five decades, were analyzed. In the 1960s and 1970s, less than 1% of students drew female scientists. The lack of female references in the media during those years conveyed to boys and girls the idea that science was fundamentally something done by men. Over the years, stereotypes have gradually decreased due to an increase in women's access to scientific careers and greater visibility of women in the media. For instance, in 2016, 36% of boys and girls drew female scientists. This study also showed that gender stereotypes in science are learnt, still persist, and become more pronounced as children get older. When girls are 10–11 years old, they start drawing more male than female scientists and by the age of 16, the ratio becomes 3 to 1.

Taking this study as a reference, we decided to organize a drawing contest to promote science and at the same time, analyze gender stereotypes in the first (1st and 2nd grade) and last (5th and 6th grade) years of Primary School in Spain. The contest was advertized in November, and the deadline for submitting drawings was 31st January, to avoid dates close to 11th February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, that could cause unintended gender bias. In addition, we also informed schools about this issue and recommend not to talk about women in science. For each level, a first prize and a special mention are awarded (Figure 1 and 2).

As mentioned above, we believe that this contest is a great tool to promote science among our little ones. First, not only the drawing quality or originality are evaluated, but also, and very importantly, the ability to capture scientific activity. Second, all winners receive a book about women in science, thanks to the support of Capitán Swing publishing group. Third, the first prize from each level, along with their classmates, visit a research center to meet scientists and know about the life in real labs. There, they are welcomed by SEBBM members who explain their research, visit the facilities, and conduct experiments. During these past three years, laboratories from different regions have been visited, and organizers of the drawing contest are extremely grateful to our colleagues, for their generosity and dedication (Figure 3).

An analysis of gender stereotypes has been carried out with the 4,270 drawings we have received during the three editions of the contest. The participation has been quite homogeneous in terms of gender. We are pleased to comment on the good health we observe regarding gender bias. In general, both boys and girls imagine themselves in the profession (Figure 4).

Taking into account all levels, girls mainly draw female scientists and boys draw male scientists (70%). The analysis of the drawings suggests that a good number of schools are making an important effort to promote women in science. In fact, we have found, especially in the 5th grade but also in the 6th, that some groups have made a great tribute to national and international female scientists: the whole class was drawing female scientists and they were sending very inspiring messages. These tributes prevent a strict analysis of stereotypes, but we are glad that the contest serves as an invitation to promote this kind of debates and work in the classroom. Excluding these groups where only female scientists are drawn, most boys draw male scientists, and among girls, although most draw female scientists, there is a higher percentage that draws male scientists. This increase in the drawing of male scientists by girls is quite clear in the 6th grade (15% in 1st grade vs 26% in 6th), highlighting that biases are learnt over the years, and that the work tackled by teachers is essential to help correct them. Scientists can also contribute to correcting gender biases. In this sense, we think that visiting the labs is a very positive experience, since they discover the diversity within the teams, not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of culture or expertise. Diversity highly contributes to accelerating advances in science, and this is an important take-home message to all of them. Another interesting outcome of the analysis is the fact that girls have more artistic skills than boys. In addition, the analysis shows that Marie Curie and Albert Einstein are the most well-known scientist for Spanish children, but strategies such as this contest, are helping in discovering new female references in science. Over the years, we are getting more and more diversity of women scientists.

In future editions, it would be interesting to extend the contest to teenagers, as we believe it would be a way to correct gender bias at critical ages when the curriculum begins to be drawn up, in order to encourage the access of women to STEM careers. Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to the teachers (most of them women), the schools, the host research centers and the scientists involved for making this activity possible and a complete success.

Collection of drawings from the children participating in the competition.
Figure 1: Drawings from 1st and 2nd Grade. Awarded participants (1st Grade) belonged to the following schools: CEIP Ángel León, Colmenar Viejo (Madrid); CEIP Virgen de Andévalo, Huelva; CEIP Camilo José Cela, Madrid and Colegio Liceo Sorolla, Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid). In 2nd Grade, winners came from: CEIP Tenerías, Zaragoza; CEIP Virgen de Andévalo, Huelva; CP Celestino Montoto, Pola de Siero (Asturias); Colegio Nuevo Equipo, Madrid; Jado ikastetxea, Erandio (Bizkaia) and Colegio Liceo Sorolla, Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid).
Collection of drawings from the children participating in the competition.
Figure 2: Drawings from 5th and 6th Grade. Awarded participants (5th Grade) belonged to the following schools: Colegio María Mediadora, Burgos; CEIP San José, Calamonte (Badajoz); CP Doña Blanca de Navarra, Lerín (Navarra); Colegio Decroly, Madrid; Colegio Vedruna Centelles, Centelles (Barcelona) and Colegio Rafaela Ybarra, Madrid. In 6th Grade, winners came from: Colegio N.S. del Carmen, Madrid; C.P. CRA Ribera de Guadyerbas, Mejorada (Toledo); CP Doña Blanca de Navarra, Lerín (Navarra); Escola l’Estel, Barcelona; Colegio Rafaela Ybarra, Madrid and CEIP Oria Castañeda, Lepe, (Huelva).
Collection of photographs of children visiting different research centers.
Figure 3: Visit to different research centers. Pupils from (A) ColegioTenerías, Zaragoza; (B) CP Celestino Montoto, Pola de Siero; and (C) CEIP Camilo José Cela (Madrid) visited BIFI and INMA; several laboratories from Universidad de Oviedo and the Department of Crystallography and Structural Biology at IQF-CSIC, respectively. SEBBM President, Isabel Varela-Nieto and CSIC President, Eloísa del Pino, (bottom left) met the students and had a chat with them.
Graphs showing the analysis of gender stereotypes.
Figure 4: Analysis of gender stereotypes. (A) Participation. (B) Analysis of what boys and girls draw: a male or female scientist, groups or a mixed couple. In parenthesis, the number of drawn scientists is indicated. (D) Distribution per grade. The symbol “>” stands for “draws”.

This drawing contest is organized by members of the SEBBM Women & Science group:  Marina García (IBFG (USAL), Salamanca), Ana Cuenda (CNB-CSIC, Madrid), Sara Sdelci (CRG, Barcelona), and María José Sánchez-Barrena (original idea and coordinator of the drawing contest; IQF-CSIC, Madrid).


All images by the Women & Science group of the SEBBM.

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