Master Science Hobby Project

Project Summary

This ISE research project will examine the characteristics, motivations, in- and out-of-school experiences, informal science activities, and career trajectories of 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, fossil collectors, master gardeners, amateur astronomers). This research will determine who these individuals are, their career pathways, how they engage in and what motivates, sustains, and defines their science interests.

STEM-related hobbies engage people in sustained self-directed informal science education (ISE), but little research on hobbyists and the ISE activities exists. In year 1, we interviewed 40 master science hobbyists and in year 2, we surveyed ~2000 science hobbyists with a range of hobby experiences. The interviews and survey will identify characteristics of these individuals, the types of hobbies and levels of expertise. We will examine career choices; science hobby activities, opportunities and barriers that master hobbyists report experiencing during their lifetime with a particular focus on hobbyists who did not select a science career with a goal to determine why these individuals chose a different career. In- and out-of-school experiences and hobby trajectories will be examined.

The rich contexts and details of in- and out-of-school experiences and the degree to which in and out-of-school experiences were perceived to influence the development of a science hobby. Furthermore, we will document the types of support, motivations, and social networks that engage master science hobbyists. We will examine how hobbyists interact with scientists and educators from informal science centers. Finally, we will look across all the data for patterns that are common for women, minorities, and other groups (rural/urban, low socioeconomic). This last strand may provide insight into why hobbies are attractive to one group or another and can inform educators about new ways to design programs for individuals with different levels of interest and expertise.



Research Questions
1) What are the characteristics of master and other science hobbyists? 2) What are the pathways and career choices that influenced master and other science hobbyists? 3) For those science hobbyists who did not enter a science career, why didn’t they? 4) What in and out-of-school science-related experiences have master science hobbyists had during their lives? 5) How has participation and interest in the hobby developed over the person’s lifespan? 6) What motivates and sustains science hobbyists? 7) What are similarities/differences (identity, gender, ethnicity, personality, motivational differences) among individuals who participate in hobbies related to science? 8) Do career and hobby interests vary by individual/cultural factors? 9) How do science hobbyists experience their hobbies and engage (if at all) with formal and informal scientists and science educators? 10) How do master science hobbyists participate in communities of practice (face-to-face, media, electronic networks) with respect to their hobby?


This research will yield new knowledge of STEM hobbyists, the STEM pipeline, and critical junctures where people with STEM interests leave the pipeline. Such knowledge will inform intervention/recruitment programs, ISE outreach and provide potential resources for ISE institutions. Studying traditionally underrepresented groups with STEM hobbies will inform policy. Potential audiences include ISE institutions (e.g. museums); organizations with links to STEM (e.g. scouts, boys/girls clubs) and pre- and college initiatives that seek to influence career choices.