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Factors that predict life sciences student persistence in undergraduate research experiences


  • Katelyn M Cooper
  • Logan E Gin
  • Barierane Akeeh
  • Carolyn E Clark
  • Joshua S Hunter
  • Travis B Roderick
  • Deanna B Elliott
  • Luis A Gutierrez
  • Rebecca M Mello
  • Leilani D Pfeiffer
  • Rachel A Scott
  • Denisse Arellano
  • Diana Ramirez
  • Emma M Valdez
  • Cindy Vargas
  • Kimberly Velarde
  • Yi Zheng
  • Sara E Brownell


Undergraduate research experiences (UREs) have the potential to benefit undergraduates and longer UREs have been shown to lead to greater benefits for students. However, no studies have examined what causes students to stay in or consider leaving their UREs. In this study, we examined what factors cause students to stay in their UREs, what factors cause students to consider leaving their UREs, and what factors cause students to leave their UREs. We sampled from 25 research-intensive (R1) public universities across the United States and surveyed 768 life sciences undergraduates who were currently participating in or had previously participated in a URE. Students answered closed-ended and open-ended questions about factors that they perceived influenced their persistence in UREs. We used logistic regression to explore to what extent student demographics predicted what factors influenced students to stay in or consider leaving their UREs. We applied open-coding methods to probe the student-reported reasons why students chose to stay in and leave their UREs. Fifty percent of survey respondents considered leaving their URE, and 53.1% of those students actually left their URE. Students who reported having a positive lab environment and students who indicated enjoying their everyday research tasks were more likely to not consider leaving their UREs. In contrast, students who reported a negative lab environment or that they were not gaining important knowledge or skills were more likely to leave their UREs. Further, we identified that gender, race/ethnicity, college generation status, and GPA predicted which factors influenced students’ decisions to persist in their UREs. This research provides important insight into how research mentors can create UREs that undergraduates are willing and able to participate in for as long as possible.

Suggested Citation

  • Katelyn M Cooper & Logan E Gin & Barierane Akeeh & Carolyn E Clark & Joshua S Hunter & Travis B Roderick & Deanna B Elliott & Luis A Gutierrez & Rebecca M Mello & Leilani D Pfeiffer & Rachel A Scott &, 2019. "Factors that predict life sciences student persistence in undergraduate research experiences," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 14(8), pages 1-30, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:plo:pone00:0220186
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220186

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Clark, Andrew E., 1997. "Job satisfaction and gender: Why are women so happy at work?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(4), pages 341-372, December.
    2. Chris Craney & Tara McKay & April Mazzeo & Janet Morris & Cheryl Prigodich & Robert de Groot, 2011. "Cross-Discipline Perceptions of the Undergraduate Research Experience," The Journal of Higher Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 82(1), pages 92-113, January.
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    1. Angélica Ferreira Melo & Woska Pires da Costa & Rhanya Rafaella Rodrigues & Lorena de Almeida Cavalcante Brandão Nunes & Priscilla Rayanne E Silva Noll & Matias Noll, 2023. "Panorama of Undergraduate Research in Brazil: Profile, Scientific Production, and Perceptions," Publications, MDPI, vol. 11(2), pages 1-24, May.

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