Stock photos of scientists reveal that science is mostly about staring

Photo by: Michael Blann / Getty Images

Science is mostly about white people staring, usually at colored liquids, but also sometimes at chickens and grass — at least, according to stock photos. So real scientists on Twitter are posting their favorite representation fails with the hashtag #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob.

The whole thing started when Nicole Paulk, a biochemistry and biophysics professor at the University of California, San Francisco, was working on a presentation. “I was trying to find stock images that aren’t too stuffy and more realistic, that don’t show us with tweed jackets and elbow patches,” she says.

Instead, she found a scientist peering deeply at a chunk of dry ice. “No one on the planet, even a dry ice scientist, would ever do this,” she says — so she tweeted it. Turns out, there are a lot more photos where this came from. So science blogger and former chemist Yvette d’Entremont came up with the hashtag, #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob.

And friends, there’s a lot of staring. And also some rock nuzzling. It gets weird.

Cleanup in the biosafety level 4 lab, please.

Don’t blink, or the chicken wins.

Geologists’ secret rock-nuzzling technique, revealed.

If you can’t figure out what the chemical is after touching it with your bare skin — well, you could always sip it. (Don’t. Do not do this.)

The hourglass is state of the art scientific equipment. At least she’s wearing her personal protective equipment to watch grass grow, right?

In science, you have to use all your senses:


I’m a photographer for a university.
This article touches upon exactly the type of problems I face when I’m asked to photograph students or researchers in a lab. For the photo to tell a story and to differentiate it from any other student working at a computer or taking notes, it can be a real struggle to make it come through to the average person. Recently, we’ve tried to get as creative as we can, trying to balance a good visual with an image that tells a true story.
(And yes, we have tons of pipette-staring student photos.)

This reminds me of my time in the lab… we studied plant hormones, cytokinins specifically… and one day a photographer comes to the lab wanting photos… well, we ended up in front of the rotovap, ya know, cuz it looks cool. The primary researcher was not best impressed, but tubes full of colorless liquids aren’t very exciting, and tobacco callus is ugly as sin.

Stock-photo tropes are always a good source of amusement. Women laughing alone with salads welcomes this new meme.

1) this brought me great joy.
2) ummm I want MORE photos of myself in tweed jackets with elbow patches… In fact…. I NEED a tweed jackets with elbow patches.

Be careful with those tweed jackets with elbow patches. When you put them on, sometimes a pipe materializes in your mouth, and thought-bubbles appear over your head, filled with differential equations and Feynman diagrams…
And before you know it, it’s 2 A.M., everyone else has gone home and all you hear is the distant sound of the janitor’s floor-polisher down the hall.

God bless you.

I wouldn’t characterize the woman 3rd set down, lower right, as "intently staring".
I would call it a look of "cool aplomb", "poised regard", "confident insight". She has the chops every researcher longs for; she’s saying "I’ve got this one, guys." She can decode that hybrid sprout’s genome at a glance and type it up on her coffee-break. While playing the violin. One handed.

I couldn’t help myself… I think I actually prefer the stock photo version of my job.

This is kind of why I think if you want a degree in any STEM program it should be 100% free, but want to get a degree in some kind of liberal arts program, or photography, it should cost $1 million a semester with no opportunity for a grant or student loan support.

We need less people in the world that think they know what scientists do and more that actually do what scientists do.

The liberal arts programs already do subsidise STEM programs. STEM programs get 3x as much lecture and tutorial time as everything else.

Dont you mean observation? In which case…yes?

I came here to post this too ^^ . If a scientist isn’t observing, they are doing it wrong.

Observation is perhaps the biggest part of science. Yes, these photos are corny (as most stock photos are), but staring is a perfectly appropriate and common thing for scientists to do.

Maybe it’s only staring because the photos aren’t moving…

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