What is science affinity?

A huge part of raising baby academics involves pounding and shaping them into tiny little boxes [1]. We call this process “grad school” and it involves a lot of being told just how wrong and misguided every idea you ever had was, is, and will continue to be. 

A semi-apt metaphor would goes as follows:

You arrive at a feast. A near infinite assortment of foods is displayed before you, each more appetizing than the last. Many kindly mentor-like figures stand around you smiling. They lead you around the table extolling the virtues of each food, but whenever you reach for an item, they begin shouting and waiving their arms madly. 

“YOU CAN ONLY HAVE ONE!” 

And then they begin ferociously detailing to you all the things about your chosen snack that totally suck, while fervently encouraging you to just go ahead and choose something already!

Peas don’t care about affinities. They just like hanging out in pods together.  Image credit: B. Todd

Peas don’t care about affinities. They just like hanging out in pods together.

Image credit: B. Todd

Now, to be fair, a most individuals new to research have some pretty unrealistic ideas about what they can accomplish in a finite amount of time with limited resources and have an even vaguer understanding of what it is they actually want to do (beyond, “Change the World!”). So, a lot of the work mentors do is trying to get students to narrow down their ideas into something coherent and doable.

What does this have to do with science affinity? Let me tell you!

As a not-so-long-ago baby academic myself, I was faced with a conundrum. As a baby academics go, I had a leg up on many of my peers. I knew exactly which snack I wanted (maple donut, thank you), what the implications of that snack were (Hello, newer, roomier jeans [2]), and where I could find my snack. In fact, I’d been working on my project already before starting my PhD program. I wanted to investigate the impacts of the SPICE program on girls science identities. I was just missing one thing, a way to measure those impacts. Here’s the thing, though, academics measure things and academics create things-that-measure-things[3]. But baby academics really need to pick just one. So you can either 

Measure things and talk about what you measured 

OR 

Create a thing-that-measures-things and talk about how that thing you made that measures things works.

It’s pretty challenging to do both. You have to pick.

I still don’t get what this has to do with science affinity?

I’m getting there! I’m getting there!

So, I was really much more interested in measuring identity in SPICE girls than I was in creating a new fangled instrument to measure identity [4]. So what do you do if you want to measure something and you don’t have time to reinvent the ruler? Well, you do what everyone in my family does, raid mom’s tool box [5]. In this case, moms tool box is stuff made by other researchers. Fortunately, other researchers actually like it when you take their tools, unlike moms, who would like not to have all there stuff lost under a mountain of legos. 

Otters together. Cuteness squared.  Image credit: B. Todd

Otters together. Cuteness squared.

Image credit: B. Todd

I knew I wanted to measure girls science identities. I knew I needed to do it with survey questions, and I knew that 11 year old girls have about a 2 page/30 question tolerance for filling out surveys. That’s under the BEST circumstances. So I went looking for what other researchers had done before. Nice juicy, validated instruments were what I needed. After trawling the depths of Google Scholar I found nine scale measures that seemed to mostly fit the bill. What I didn’t find, was a simple measure of science identity. Go figure! Identity might be something complex and not easily measured in a handful of ordinal scale questions [6].

So, I cobbled together parts of the nine scale measures I’d found and I snuck in a four question scale measure of identity I’d made up for a pilot study a year earlier (hello tiny eclair, I filched from the infinite snack table while my advisor wasn’t looking) and thus was born . . . well, a three page survey that was really boring.

BUT! I tested it with SPICE kids, and I ran some factor analyses [7] and thus a slightly less boring two page survey that made some sort of thematic sense emerged.

One snail, two snail. Brown snail, slime snail.  Image credit: B. Todd

One snail, two snail. Brown snail, slime snail.

Image credit: B. Todd

This two page survey contained four clusters of questions. These clusters measured science identity (or something like science identity), expectancy value for science, science self-efficacy, and attitudes toward science. Now, constantly typing out those four things got rather boring for me so I needed to come up with a name that encapsulated the whole suite of measures . . . and voilà, science affinity was born.

Fortunately, though my process for getting to affinity was rather haphazard, it turns out that these four items actually share something in common. They all fall under the heading of motivational research, and that’s what I do. I measure motivation for science using an amalgam of motivational theories that I call science affinity.

So when I use the term science affinity in this blog what I mean is:

  • Do they think science is cool?

  • Do they think science is valuable?

  • Do they think they’re good at science?

  • Do they think of themselves as scientists?

And that’s about it. Science affinity. The homunculus maple bar-éclair that is my snack of choice. 

Of course, I wasn’t really satisfied with one mashed up snack, but I’ll talk about my qualitative research in other posts. Hello, Pumpkin pie-maple bar-éclair.

~~~~~

[1] I have many thoughts about this. 

[2] Only half joking. Grad school really can pack on the pounds. I went from a mean lean triathlon running machine to a strange goblin creature hiding in a corner closet cramming maples bars in to my face and rocking back and forth singing the theme song to Sponge Bob Squarepants.

[3] We call them instruments. They generally do not produce sound.

[4] I still totally want to do that and if you happen to know 400-600 girls ages 11-14 who don’t mind taking a bunch of surveys please call me.

[5] All the pink labeling tape in the world won’t keep my husband and son from 5-fingering my measuring tape and nice rubber handled pliers. GAH!

[6] What’s an ordinal scale question, you ask? Actually, you already know. You just don’t know that you know. It’s what is famously called an “unknown, known.” Which is to say, they’re those questions people call you on the phone to ask. “If you were to rate your interest in having a full service toe waxing station at your work would you say you are: very disinterested, disinterested, neither interested nor disinterested, interested, or very interested?” 

[7] That’s a mathematical way of finding out which of the items on your survey are the “cool kids” who want to hang out together. And which are the sad kids, who have to eat lunch alone.

A list of all the survey instruments I filched from other researchers.

Cause it’s only stealing if you don’t give credit!

Adams, W. K., Perkins, K. K., Podolefsky, N. S., Dubson, M., Finkelstein, N. D., & Wieman, C. E. (2006). New instrument for measuring student beliefs about physics and learning physics: The Colorado learning attitudes about science survey. Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, 2(1).

Else-Quest, N. M., Mineo, C. C., & Higgins, A. (2013). Math and science attitudes and achievement at the intersection of gender and ethnicity. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(3), 293-309.

Germann, P. J. (1988). Development of the attitude toward science in school assessment and its use to investigate the relationship between science achievement and attitude toward science in school. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 25(8), 689-703.