Becoming a Biologist: the Impact of a Quasi-Apprenticeship Program on Chinese Secondary School Students’ Career Intention

  • Jinli Zhao
  • Sifan Hu
  • He He
  • Jin ChenEmail author


The decreasing number of young students pursuing science careers has become a rising concern worldwide, particularly in China. Educational programs with empirical evidence of promoting young students’ pursuit of science careers are still lacking. Here, drawing on the existing literature, we designed and implemented a 3-day quasi-apprenticeship program in a research botanical garden of China. We used a pre-post test design, with hypotheses based on the Theory of Planned Behavior and provided both quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate the efficacy of the program on 319 seventh- and eighth-grade Chinese students from 15 public schools. The quantitative findings by using generalized estimating equations indicated that students’ attitudes, subjective norms, science self-efficacy, and career intention were significantly enhanced after the program; the structural equation modeling result showed that the enhancement of career intention could be explained by increases in subjective norms and science self-efficacy. The qualitative findings also supported the notion that a high proportion of students mentioned gains in increased science self-efficacy from attending the program. We suggest a short-term program, engaging students in group work of authentic science practices with mentors in an authentic context, might be a cost-effective strategy for supporting Chinese young students’ pursuit of science careers. This study also provides valuable information, through both pedagogical and theoretical structure elements, for educators and researchers who design, deliver, and evaluate educational programs to promote secondary school students’ pursuit of science careers.


Apprenticeship Career intention Secondary school student Theory of planned behavior 



The authors thank especially Wenya Zhao, Hui Ji, and all other TREP project members, and all participating students and teachers involved in this study, because the project could have not been achieved without them. The authors also thank Richard T. Corlett, Christina Lumsden, and Francis Commercon for their careful reading and comments on this manuscript.


This study was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences 135 Program (grant number 2017XTBG-F04) and the Chinese Union of Botanical Gardens (grant number KFJ-1W-NO1-11).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesMenglaPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.School of Life SciencesSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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