Collaborative Research: "Taking the long view: Investigating the role of biology interest and far-sighted career goals on students' persistence in the STEM career pipeline." Grant

Collaborative Research: "Taking the long view: Investigating the role of biology interest and far-sighted career goals on students' persistence in the STEM career pipeline." .


  • Many efforts are underway to meet the science and technology workforce needs in the United States. Although students enter college with interests in STEM fields, many do not persist in these majors. This project will investigate two fundamental, yet understudied factors that may limit participation of students, including those from underrepresented groups in biology careers: the strength of students' interest in the discipline they are pursuing and the clarity of their career goals throughout their studies. This proposal lays the groundwork for investigating the influence of these two factors on post-college preparedness by documenting the current range of interest and career goals in entering undergraduate biology majors at two institutions and investigating whether these factors predict the critical experiences students pursue during their undergraduate career. Students without clear career goals and interests may not recognize which experiences are important to pursue during their undergraduate career, may have trouble choosing among different beneficial experiences, or may not be motivated to persist when things get difficult. This project will also advance our understanding about how early students need to develop these goals and interests to become competitive during college. These findings will inform the design and deployment of effective interventions to help students develop career goals and stronger disciplinary interests before they lose opportunities to access critical experiences. The intellectual merit of this project is to bring interest development theory and, for the first time, vocational development theory to characterize the roles of biology interest and career goal clarity in advancing students' progress in biology career paths. Retrospective interviews with medical and graduate students in biology will characterize the timing of and relationships between students' interest and career goal development and their pursuit of critical disciplinary experiences during their undergraduate career. A longitudinal study of a large sample of entering biology majors with different levels of biology interest and at different stages of career goal development will complement this analysis by tracking when students acquire critical disciplinary experiences over the first three years of college. Together, these studies will provide evidence on 1) how early and how often students who matriculate to medical and graduate school access critical experiences, 2) whether disciplinary interest and career goal development impact pursuit of critical experiences and maintenance of biology career goals, and 3) whether students from historically underserved groups are less likely to enter college with developed biology interests and/or career goals. In addition, the project will increase understanding the importance of biology career pathways as an alternative to the traditional measure of persistence: retention in the biology major.

date/time interval

  • August 1, 2017 - July 31, 2022

sponsor award ID

  • 1711082