This project will be conducted by a team of investigators from North Carolina State University. The principal investigator proposes to examine the characteristics, motivations, in and out-of-school experiences, informal science activities, and career trajectories of 1000 science hobbyists and "master hobbyists." Master hobbyists are individuals who have developed science expertise and spend considerable free time engaging in science as a leisure activity. Master science hobbyists are found across most areas of science (e.g. birdwatchers, amateur astronomers). This research will determine who these individuals are, their career pathways, how they engage in science activities and what motivates, sustains, and defines their science interests. One of the particular goals of this research is to develop new understandings of how science hobby interests develop for women and underserved minorities.
In the proposed research investigators will use the results of interviews and surveys to identify contextual factors that influence the motivational processes that, in turn, influenced choices of careers and contribute to ongoing choices in hobby and citizen science activities. Of interest in this study is how citizen scientists who are also serious hobbyists differ from master science hobbyists. Research on citizen scientists has shown that this group is highly motivated by collective motives (such as a desire to help others and further science), whereas this may not be the case with the master science hobbyist. Two groups will be sampled: a) birdwatchers and b) amateur astronomers. This sampling model will allow investigators to contrast their findings by: 1) those who have selected a science career versus those that did not select a science career, 2) those who participate in citizen science activities and those that do not, and 3) those who are birdwatchers (greater mathematical components) and those who are amateur astronomers (lesser mathematical components). Additional coding and analyses will examine any differences in the evolution of bird watching and astronomy hobbies. The results of this research will be examined in light of existing motivational and sociocultural models of career selection.
This research will document differences in the perceived motivational elements that influenced master science hobbyists/citizen scientists to choose a science career or not. The results can inform federal, state, and local policies for supporting youth and adults engaged in free choice learning. Results of this research will inform the design of intervention/recruitment programs and ISE outreach initiatives. Potential audiences include ISE institutions (e.g. museums and science centers), organizations with links to STEM (e.g. scouts, boys/girls clubs) and pre- and college initiatives that seek to influence career choices and life-long science interests. The proposed cross-disciplinary approach will promote new understandings of complex issues related to motivation, retention, career selection, leisure activities, engagement with formal and informal educational environments, gender and ethnicity, communities of practice and changes in interests over time. Members of the advisory board have expertise in assessment and measurement and will work closely with the project team to conduct a detailed examination of methodologies and analyses at all phases of the project.