Including Diverse Scientists for an Inclusive Class

Patricia Marsteller
Emory University
Patricia Marsteller, Emory University

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published Feb 14, 2023 2:16pm

Dear friends, did you ever do the draw a scientist exercise? Indulge me for a moment. Close your eyes. Visualize a scientist doing science. Draw or describe what you see.

Although this exercise was developed and studied mostly for elementary and middle school students, when I ask college faculty or students, many of the results are similar. Many see only men with beakers, chemicals, and often wild hair! Faculty with their eyes closed often grimace because they don't like what they first envision.

Another quick test is to ask your students to name as many scientists as they can...on the first day of class. Look at your textbooks and your class slides. Who is depicted? Whose work is mentioned?

Whether your course is aimed at non-majors or majors, pre-health professions, or students planning graduate and professional careers, it is important for them to see many cultures, ethnicities, and other counter-stereotypical people doing science. It is even more important for historically underrepresented groups to see success stories. We need all students to see that all groups have contributed to scientific discovery and innovation. People – including students, faculty, and scientists – have diverse backgrounds and identities. However, most students are not exposed to a diversity of role models in science, and many students are taught about science in a way that (often unintentionally) does not feel inclusive to them or their communities.

Often faculty want to represent all people to be inclusive but say they don't know how to change the textbooks or that they don't know who to include or how to incorporate more stories of people without cutting content. Sometimes my colleagues say they are uncomfortable asking scientists for their stories.

Well, my friends, it's Black History Month, so I want to share with you some important Black scientist sites and several NSF-funded projects where you can learn about creating materials or using materials others have created.

First, if you want to feel inspired, please visit this blog that features 1000 Black scientist in America! A quick search of TED talks also yields many inspiring Black scientists from all science and engineering fields telling their stories and talking about their research. YouTube videos also yield many examples.

Three projects to help you get started

Scientist Spotlights offers assignments and implementation tips for incorporating diverse scientists in classes. A Scientist Spotlights assignment allows a free, out-of-class curriculum supplement, that introduces students to counter-stereotypical examples of scientists while teaching course content. Scientist Spotlights differ from activities that simply present pictures or stories of scientists to students in that they convey course content and create opportunities for students to reflect deeply on who does science and how it relates to them. Reflection activities assist students in changing their views of who can do science.

Biologists and Graph Interpretation (BioGraphI) is a Research Coordination Network sponsored by NSF that provides opportunities for faculty to work collaboratively to increase student persistence in biology by improving the representation of diverse scientists in the curriculum and incorporating data interpretation skills. BioGraphI modules address data literacy while fostering diversity in undergraduate biology classrooms. The lessons include graph and data interpretation, featuring the scientific contributions of biologists who are members of historically excluded groups (HEGs). They include video interviews with these biologists, allowing students to hear directly from HEGs about their discoveries. Visit the site to see how to join and receive financial support to develop new lessons.

Project Biodiversify is a repository of teaching materials and methods aimed at enhancing human diversity and inclusivity in biology courses. Project Biodiversify is an online space that promotes the humanization, diversification, and inclusivity of biology classrooms. Check out the site and materials to learn about how to engage in and contribute to this project. The News & Events page will help you get started. They have a specific approach to creating materials using photos, stories, research papers, key figures, and the societal relevance of the research. Kat Soto's Conservation Action Plan for the Green Salamander is one example. The group is also willing to do workshops.

Want an even simpler way?  Have students create posters about a scientist from this or other lists and post them in your hallways!

Your students, especially those historically marginalized and underrepresented in science careers will benefit greatly. Schinski and colleagues (2016) showed clearly that students completing Scientist Spotlights shifted toward counter-stereotypical descriptions of scientists and conveyed an enhanced ability to personally relate to scientists following the intervention.  These assignments also influence identity as a scientist. Differences in students' sense of belonging in science have been shown to link with how students perceive who can do science. Yonas et al. (2020) showed that the impact of interventions varies by student identity, religious background, and political stance. Please try this.

Just for's one of my favorite evolutionary biologists, Paul Turner. You can also check out several of his TED talks on phage therapygenetic variants of COVID-19, and virus ecology.

For some other sites to explore see the resources links, watch for follow-up posts for other upcoming celebrations, and perhaps consider this free diversity calendar.


Barman, C. (1996). How do students really view science and scientists? Science and Children, 34(1), 30-33. Retrieved 10/21/2015 from

Finson, K.D. (2002). Drawing a scientist: What we do and do not know after fifty years of drawings. School Science and Mathematics, 102(7), 335-345.

Schinske J.N., Perkins H., Snyder A, & Wyer M. (2016) Scientist Spotlight Homework Assignments Shift Students' Stereotypes of Scientists and Enhance Science Identity in a Diverse Introductory Science Class. CBE Life Sci Educ.15(3):ar47. doi: 10.1187/cbe.16-01-0002. PMID: 27587856; PMCID: PMC5008894.

Yonas, A., Sleeth, M., & Cotner S. (2020). "Scientist Spotlight" Intervention, Diverse Student Identities Matter. Journal of Microbiology Biology Education 25: 21. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v21i1.2013


Black History Month Scientists and Educators Resources

Learn More About these 35 Scientists for Black History Month – Science Buddies

Science and Medicine – Black History Month 2023

Black History Month: 20 Black trailblazers in science and biotechnology that you need to know - Biotechnology Innovation organization

What's science got to do with Black History Month? Vanderbilt School of Medicine

African American Scientists: Celebrating Black History Month – Promega Connections

16 Black History Month STEM Activities – iD Tech

100 inspiring Black scientists in America – Cell Mentor

Neuroscience alumni among 1,000 inspiring Black scientists in America – University of Rochester Medical Center

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