Saturday, August 20, 2016

Young, gifted, first-generation minority science students motivated by prosocial values

There are as many motives as there are undergraduates taking introductory science courses, but if you look closely at groups of freshmen science students such as those from underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds, you can see striking motivational differences across and within these groups. That's a major finding in a new survey of 249 freshmen by psychology researchers in California.

The researchers found that those who entered undergraduate science studies with a strong belief that science could help members of their communities were more likely to identify as being scientists over time. But this held true only for URM first-generation college students, that is, URM freshmen who were first in their families to enroll at the college level. Students from all groups were highly motivated by traditional science values, such as curiosity and passion for discovery. But this "prosocial" outlook, say the researchers, was also a prime motivator for URM first-generation students' desire to pursue science careers.

Yet looking across all URM science students, combining first-generation students with those from families with college or higher educational backgrounds, the researchers found a greater connection between broader prosocial goals and their reasons for pursuing a science degree or career. Seeing opportunities to fulfill these prosocial goals can be more important for URM students in science fields than for students who are traditionally well-represented.

These are among the findings of a new study of URM student motivation just published in the journal CBE-Life Sciences Education (LSE). These findings, say the authors, demonstrate that all students, even within a definable subgroup, can have differing motives and career ideals. Taking these "intersectional identities" into account, the researchers say, undergraduate science educators should pay attention to culturally connected career motives within URM communities to "make science matter" to them.

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