Reasons to Become a Scientist

By Michael Edmonds 11/10/2011 3

I’ve just been reading the results of a 2008 survey of New Zealand scientists and technologists which was published in the New Zealand Science Review last year. The survey attempted to question a 1046 person sample from a survey population of 5966 scientists and technologists in New Zealand.

It is a fascinating survey which attempts to explore the attitudes and attributes of those working in science in New Zealand. The question that I found most interesting was one exploring why those surveyed became scientists/technologists.

The question was phrased as follows, and I have included the percentage response

If you had to select just TWO reasons, which TWO of the following would you choose as your most important reasons for becoming a professional in your field:

Intrigue with the search for truth and knowledge or … curiosity  34.9%

Desire to contribute to the improvement… of humanity 23.8%

Expectation of a sense of achievement  16.0%

Influence of an older scientist 8.7%

My chosen field is easier and more fun for me  7.8%

Desire to achieve a comfortable lifestyle  3.4%

Other 1.7%

Desire to follow in the footsteps of great thinkers  1.4%

Expectations of other persons  1.0%

Potential to become famous for my research  0.9%

Potential to achieve greater wealth  0.7%

The two front running reasons certainly resonate with me, with regards to why I became a scientist. Curiosity coupled with a view that science can and should be used to improve the world around us are the reasons I became a scientist.

Not surprisingly, the desire/ability to become rich or famous feature at the bottom of the list. Even those scientists who do achieve fame and/or wealth, I would suggest have done so incidentally.

Critics of scientists (typically those with agendas science does not support) like to portray scientists as aloof, uncaring individuals, however, with the desire to contribute to the improvement of humanity as the second strongest reason for becoming a scientist, this is simply not true for many scientists.

3 Responses to “Reasons to Become a Scientist”

  • The percentages add up to 100% but 2 reasons were allowed to be chosen, so has the %age been normalised ? Does this mean that 47.6% actually chose as one of their 2 options Desire to contribute to the improvement… of humanity ?

  • Brent,

    I had the same question. From the way the survey is phrased I think your interpretation is probably correct.