Who Is a Scientist? Q&A with author Laura Gehl, a Book Trailer, and More!

Who Is a Scientist? Q&A with Author Laura Gehl

Scientists work hard in the lab and in the field to make important discoveries. But who are they really? Read on to learn more about Who Is a Scientist? coming October 5 from author Laura Gehl, including a book trailer, interview with the author, science careers flowchart, and teaching guide.

It turns out they are just like us! Scientists can be any race. And any gender. They can wear lab coats, jeans, or even tutus. And they are people who love to fly drones, make art, and even eat French fries! In Who Is a Scientist? author Laura Gehl introduces readers to fourteen phenomenal scientists who might just change the way you think about who a scientist is.  An “if you like this, you’ll like that” flowchart in the back of the book helps students identify science careers they might be interested in (you can also see it if you keep reading this blog post!).

Watch the book trailer below and read on for a Q&A with Laura Gehl, who shares what motivated her to write the book and how she hopes the book will inspire readers.

What inspired you to write Who Is a Scientist?

Since I was in high school, I’ve seen articles and studies stating that most kids think of scientists as white men (see below for a few recent articles). Over the past few decades, there has been some progress in this area . . . but not nearly enough. I wrote this book hoping kids would see that scientists don’t fit into any one box. I wanted young readers to understand that all great scientists DO have a few traits in common—curiosity and determination—but that everything else can be different. 

50 Years of Children Drawing Scientists (Edutopia)
What We Learn From 50 Years of Kids Drawing Scientists (The Atlantic)
Study: Elementary School Students Tend to View Scientists as White and Male (Univ. of Va)
Uncovering Students’ Thinking about Science and Scientists (National Science Teaching Association)

What do you hope young readers will take away from this book?

I want this book to make scientists relatable to kids. I hope readers come away from the book with an awareness that scientists are not ONLY excited about science. Scientists have other interests too—interests that many kids share, like sports and pets and art and junk food. Also, I want readers to realize that that not all scientists work in labs with chemicals while wearing white coats. Scientists work in many different places and study many different topics. Just as I hope readers see that scientists are not all the same, I hope they realize that science is not any one thing. Science is dinosaurs, and planets, and bugs, and brains, and submarines, and so much more! No matter where a reader’s interests lie, there is a scientific field waiting to welcome them. Most of all, I want young readers to come away from the book thinking, “I could be a scientist!” or “I want to be a scientist!” 

Did you like science when you were a kid?

Yes! My dad, to whom I dedicated this book, ignited my love of science at a young age. He took me to collect pond water and look at it under a microscope, helped me grow bacteria in petri dishes, taught me the names and songs of different birds, and showed me Saturn through a telescope (I could actually see the rings!).

Did you like reading books about science when you were a kid?

Yes! I had a book about chemistry that I carried around with me in elementary school. I wanted to memorize the whole periodic table. I also loved reading biographies of scientists. Two of my favorite books were about Marie Curie and Louis Pasteur. (I still love reading biographies of scientists, by the way. Two of my recent favorites were Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang; and Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala.)

Did you ever work in a science lab yourself?

I did research in a neurobiology lab, studying a neurotransmitter called N-acetylaspartylglutamate. I vividly remember when I realized—partway through graduate school—that being a scientist means actually adding new information to the sum total of knowledge that exists on Earth. It completely blew my mind. I mentioned this epiphany to my advisor, and he just grinned and said, “That’s why I love coming to work every day.” 

Your undergraduate degree is in psychology and your doctorate is in neuroscience. But if you had to go back in time and become a completely different kind of scientist, what career path would you choose?

Well, I once saw a job posting for an institute in Switzerland in need of chocolate-development scientists. That would be very high on my list. But I would also love to go to Antarctica and study penguins. It’s a toss-up between those two, I think.

Flowchart: What Kind of Scientist Do You Want to Be?

Guide budding scientists and show them the vast variety of jobs in scientific fields with this handy flowchart from Who Is a Scientist.

Scientist flow chart

Who Is a Scientist?

Interest Level: Grades PreK-3
Reading Level: Grade 2

Who Is a Scientist? Book cover.

Read another interview with Laura on Mr. Schu’s blog or download a free teaching guide for the book.

Connect with Laura Gehl

Follow the author on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and her website!

Want more interviews with Lerner authors? Click here!

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