This thesis explores the influence of celebrity scientists on the uptake of science by young people, post-GCSE; the phenomenon is based upon media assertions that young people were continuing with science as a result of the increased media presence of scientists: the ‘Brian Cox effect’.
Research design is set within a constructivist-interpretivist paradigm and case study framework, employing a narrative, story-telling approach to data collection and presentation. Narratives require ‘actors’, and as such the ‘lead actors’ in this research are: the conceptual framework; a narrative approach to data presentation; and the sociological perspectives of science capital and habitus. Together they guide development of the ‘bricolaged’ methodology, underpin the innovative script-writing approach to data presentation, which are used to illuminate the phenomenon of celebrity science culture.
Data collection includes two participant groups: eighteen science students (‘A’ Level, undergraduate, and postgraduate), and five celebrity scientists (Sir David Attenborough, Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor Steve Jones, Professor Mark Miodownik MBE, and Roma Agrawal MBE). Interviews explore science memories and influences, as well as perceptions of the role of celebrity science and scientists.
The rationale and significance of this research lies within two strands: knowledge-based and methodological. It offers new knowledge to the field of celebrity science influence, with the potential to inform science education policy makers, and the methodological bricolage of conceptual framework development and creative narrative practices offer new dimensions to narrative research.
An intrinsic, long-standing ‘passion’ for science was found to be the most influential factor. Advanced subject knowledge of teachers and lecturers, alongside opportunities to work within authentic and meaningful contexts, were highlighted as important in raising aspirations, and building science capital. Celebrity scientists were perceived as having the potential to influence young people, with authentic, inspiring contexts, presented in an entertaining format potentially optimising this influence. Science per se, rather than the ‘scientist’ him/herself, was more influential, contrasting with the traditional view of celebrity influence. The perceptions of science students are reflected in the findings from celebrity scientists. Engagement with children and young people was considered part of their role, not only to raise aspirations, but also to increasingly embed science culturally; their own passion for science the impetus for involvement. Partnership with other stakeholders was recognised as key, especially teachers and parents. ‘Personification’ was also recognised as important, acknowledging the responsibility that brings for their work to be truthful and credible.
The thesis concludes with recommendations for future policy and practice, offering a theoretical framework and bespoke checklist, derived from the data, to support dialogue between stakeholders. This includes exploring use of the narratives as a tool to engage pupils with their own science journeys, with the intention of enhancing their science capital. The concept of “message to a name” is introduced, in contrast to the “name to a message” phenomenon of celebrity influence.