Culturing reality: How organic chemistry graduate students develop into practitioners

Gautam Bhattacharyya, George M. Bodner

Although one of the presumed aims of graduate training programs is to help students develop into practitioners of their chosen fields, very little is known about how this transition occurs. In the course of studying how graduate students learn to solve organic synthesis problems, we were able to identify some of the key factors in the epistemic development from student to practitioner. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four first-year organic chemistry graduate students enrolled in a course on organic synthesis and two third-year organic chemistry graduate students who were in the process of preparing an original research proposal in organic synthesis as a component of their Ph.D. oral qualifying exams. Three interconnected factors that fostered the students’ development into practicing organic chemists were identified: (1) the students needed to perceive the material they were asked to learn in the course lectures and in other interactions with the professor as “real;” (2) they needed to work on authentic activities that provided concrete instruments for knowledge construction; and (3) the students needed scaffolding with a more-knowledgeable other in the form of feedback on the authentic activity.


Becoming (less) scientific: A longitudinal study of students’ identity work from elementary to middle school science

Heidi B. Carlone, Catherine M. Scott, Cassi Lowder

Students’ declining science interest in middle school is often attributed to psychological factors like shifts of motivational values, decrease in self-efficacy, or doubts about the utility of schooling in general. This paper adds to accounts of the middle school science problem through an ethnographic, longitudinal case study of three diverse students’ identity work from fourth- to sixth-grade school science. Classroom observations and interviews are used as primary data sources to examine: (1) the cultural and structural aspects of the fourth- and sixth-grade classrooms, including the celebrated subject positions, that enabled and constrained students’ identity work as science learners; (2) the nature of students’ identity work, including their positioning related to the celebrated subject positions within and across fourth- and sixth-grade science; and (3) the ways race, class, and gender figured into students’ identity work and positioning. In fourth-grade, all experienced excellent science pedagogy and performed themselves as scientifically competent and engaged learners who recognized themselves and got recognized by others as scientific. By sixth-grade, their identity work in school science became dramatically less scientific. Celebrated subject positions did not demand scientific thinking or robust engagement in scientific practices and were heavily mediated by race, class, and gender. Our results highlight three insights related to the middle school problem: (1) when students’ social identity work was leveraged in service of robust science learning, their affiliation increased; (2) academic success in school science did not equate to affiliation or deep engagement with science; and (3) race, class, and gender figured into students’ successes in, threats to, and identity work related to becoming scientific. We end the article by providing a framework and questions that teachers, teacher educators, and researchers might use to design and evaluate the equity of science education learning spaces.