STEAM Online Course

3.3 Science capital

Recently, there has been much research into the area of ‘science capital’. It is quite similar to cultural capital but relates to our interactions specifically with science and is usually explored in the context of education. Studies in science capital aim to understand why young people aren’t choosing stem subjects as a career option.

See this video on science capital to learn more:

Science capital and STEM uptake


The ASPIRES project has been using the lens of science capital to examine what guides students motivation towards STEM careers. One general conclusion they have made is that trying to change the individual is not effective and it is the environment that needs to be changed.

They use the analogy of a candle. Imagine that the wax and wick of the candle is the student’s ‘science capital’. The air around the candle is the ‘field’ and the spark to ignite the candle is the ‘educator’. If the air around the candle doesn’t provide the right conditions, (if it’s too windy or wet), the candle will not ignite. It does not matter if more wax is poured on, the wick is extended or how many times you try to ignite the candle. If the environment isn’t right, the candle won’t stay lit.

The aim of the analogy is to move away from the idea that changing the student is all we need to do. I.e. that we simply need to fill them with more knowledge, or convince them that ‘anyone’ can be a scientist. Instead we need to change the conditions around the student that will allow their passion for science to ignite in a sustainable way. This involves changing our teaching methods, as we will see in the next lesson.