• Question: What is the difference between a Scientist and a Science teacher?

    Asked by adunbar to Chris, Michael, Paddy, Phil on 22 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Paddy Brock

      Paddy Brock answered on 22 Jun 2011:


      That’s a good question, and usually there isn’t one deep down. An active scientist usually spends his or her time actively doing science that hasn’t been done before, i.e. trying to find new things out. A science teacher communicates what has already been found out by active scientists to pupils in the best way he or she can. So the major goal of an active scientist could be said to be to create as many new and useful results as possible, and the major goal of a science teacher could be said to pass on as many of those results as possible to pupils. Both the active scientist and the science teacher need to have a good understanding of the process of scientific investigation and both need to be good at communicating their results to other people. However, the active scientist usually only works within one specific discipline (i.e. the chemistry of a particular material) while the teacher has to know about the whole range of scientific topics that are taught at school. Because of this, the active scientist will know much more about his or her specific area of research than the science teacher, but the teacher will now about many more areas of science than the active scientist.

    • Photo: Chris Jordan

      Chris Jordan answered on 22 Jun 2011:


      Good question, I think a science teacher has to be a scientist. (A scientist doesn’t have to be a science teacher though, some really good researchers are very bad lecturers!)
      Teaching anything is hard work and you need understand what you’re teaching extremely well (all the really difficult questions get asked when you try and explain something – I’m finding that here on IAS!)

    • Photo: Michael Wharmby

      Michael Wharmby answered on 22 Jun 2011:


      Nice question. Generally the difference is that one does research and answers questions (trying to find out new things – scientist) and the other teaches/communicates science to students/people in general (teacher).
      It’s not that black and white though. A scientist in a university will almost certainly do some teaching and as Chris says, some are good teachers and some are bad – it’s a very different set of skills teaching compared to research.
      To teach you need to know a broader range of the subject to give the background and to be able to understand fully the topic you’re talking about, so when a student asks a question you either know the answer or you can work it out/know where to find out.
      A scientist doing research (be it in university or in industry) will know a very small area of science in very great detail – this is what a PhD is about and it prepares you for work as a research scientist.

      Question for you though – what is a scientist? If you like asking questions and finding out about the world around you from the evidence available to you, surely that makes you a scientist? And then aren’t we all scientists in one way or another?

    • Photo: Phil Denniff

      Phil Denniff answered on 22 Jun 2011:


      As the others have said the difference between a scientist and a science teacher is only where to place the emphasis.
      Im luck I get paid to be scientist but there is no reason why a builder or anyone else could not be a scientist. Its about how you question the world. I have just bought a UV torch and some orange glasses and I plan to go out into the garden to see if the colours of the flowers change. I thing they might because bees can see a much wider range of colours than humans. Also I plan to look for small rodent (mice, voles, shrews) runs because they mark them with urine that should show up in the UV light. So go out be a scientist watch some slugs head for the shade if you put them in the sun and try and work out how they know where the shade is. Then teach your science teacher.

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