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Understanding why students choose to major in biology provides important insight into the motivations of biology majors. It is similarly important to investigate how biology majors perceive the discipline, including associated activities, such as independent research, which can influence students’ interests in the field and likelihood to persist in science, engineering, technology, and math. However, there has been little work done examining biology student motivations and perceptions, particularly at non-research-intensive universities or after the COVID-19 pandemic started. To address this gap, we surveyed the first-year cohort of biology majors at a private, comprehensive university. We found that students largely reported choosing the major because of interest in the field and/or the fact that the major would prepare them for specific careers. We also found that students had skewed conceptions of several major subdisciplines of biology (ecology and evolution; cell and molecular biology; and anatomy and physiology). Finally, most students reported not knowing what independent research is or presented naive conceptions of research. Our work offers a characterization of how first-year students at our university perceive the discipline, and we conclude by discussing changes that our program has made to address these results as well as implications for instructors and biology administrators.


This article was originally published in Journal, volume number, issue number, in year.

This scholarship is part of the Chapman University COVID-19 Archives.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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