My research employs mixed-methods to explore girls development as scientists in training. This research is grounded in psychosocial theories of motivation including: Eriksonian identity theory, self-efficacy theory, and mindset theory. I explore how these theories can be adapted into concrete methods for engaging girls in science in ways that help build identities and efficacy. I also examine girls affinities toward science, the nascent science identities they enact, and how these affinities and identities interact with gendered social expectations. 

 Photo Credit: A. Evensen

Photo Credit: A. Evensen


This research project was the basis of my PhD work and dissertation and consisted of three components: 1) an analysis of the fidelity of implementation of the SPICE program's operationalized theoretical elements, 2) a cross-sectional examination of girls’ science affinities (identity, efficacy, interest, and attitudes) before and after participating in the intervention program, and 3) describing three emergent science identity archetypes observed among the participants. The study employed mixed-methods including the use of extant scale measures of science affinities, observations and observational rubrics based on the underlying theory, focus group interviews, and individual interviews. 

Key findings:

  1. The program was implemented with high fidelity to the underlying operationalized psychosocial theories
  2. Girls’ affinities were changing following the program as a function of socio economic status with higher income girls predicted to have greater benefit over time from the program
  3. Girls were exhibiting a variety of emergent science identity archetypes described as: expert, experimenter, and inventor

Two publications are currently under review from this study.


In a follow up study, new applicants to the 2015 SPICE camp were randomly assigned to either the camp or an alternate control condition. Both groups were administered the science affinities survey used in the 2014 study before and after the regular SPICE camp. Students in the alternate control were given a free three day science mini-camp experience immediately after the second survey, thus preserving their control status. Multivariate analysis showed that girls attending SPICE camp experienced a statistically significant increase in the measured science affinities as compared to the control group. 

One publication is currently under review from this study.

 Photo Credit: D. Walton

Photo Credit: D. Walton



Two further summers of data have been collected science the initial study in 2013-2014. Over 30 interviewers with campers have been collected extending the previously described emergent science identity archetypes. Analysis for this study is still under way.

Participants consistently described scientists as intelligent, curious, and skilled. However, their descriptions of scientists’ core motivations fell into three consistent archetypes, described as experts, experimenters, and inventors. Girls with the expert identity type are academically motivated and view true scientists as people who are skilled in science and are recognized for their expertise. Girls of the experimenter type value exploration and discovery, placing emphasis on inductive learning through experimentation. Girls of the inventor type express a strong interest in tinkering and creation. They view science as a means of service to the greater good through innovation.

In and of themselves, the archetypes are interesting, but not groundbreaking or likely exclusive to girls. They  become most relevant is when they are considered in conjunction with gendered expectations both in and out of the classroom.

Expert types are likely to experience frustration when their accomplishments are overlooked in favor of male peers who are perceived socially as more naturally scientifically gifted. With their strong academic skills, experts may turn their attentions to disciplines where they feel respected and acknowledged.

Experimenter types are resilient to failure, but their boundary pushing and penchant for messes will likely be met with consternation by authority figures who expect girls to be neat and compliant. They may be tracked away from advance science courses because they are perceived to be behaviorally inconsistent with academically rigorous coursework.

Inventers with their interest in tinkering and engineering wills struggle to find role models and peers as they seek out opportunities in the most heavily male dominated fields. Many will find themselves channeled into the biological sciences which are perceived to me more feminine in nature.