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From Undecided to Science

A research duo examined the factors that that influence college students' decisions to pursue science majors. As the pair reports in the NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, while many women who enter college with a science major in mind ultimately chose other fields of study, some women who started out undecided later chose a science major.

"We can't ignore the fact that women are less likely to major in science, persist in science, and earn degrees in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math," author Joy Gaston Gayles, an associate professor of education at North Carolina State University, says in a statement. "But this study indicates that there may be promising nontraditional options for attracting and retaining women in science."

Gayles and Central Michigan University's Frim Ampaw drew upon data from National Center for Education Statistics' Beginning Postsecondary Students longitudinal survey. They examined students' choice of major at different time points in their college careers as well as their precollege academic achievement, college experience, socioeconomic background, and more.

From this, they found that two-thirds of men who said as first years that were majoring in science ultimately chose a science major, while about a quarter of women did. People who left STEM fields typically chose majors in business or humanities, rather than a different STEM subject, they note.

At the same time, there is a later influx of science majors. These students started out as undecided and chose a science major after their first year, and, the researchers say, a good portion are women.

"This study helps to show that it's not so much a STEM pipeline as a pathway," Gayles adds. "Since more women who were undecided on a major switched to the sciences by their third year of college, tapping into this group could help increase the numbers of women."

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