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Exploring the Values Undergraduate Students Attribute to Cross-disciplinary Skills Needed for the Workplace: an Analysis of Five STEM Disciplines

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Employers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields report that recent graduates are deficient in important skills such as collaboration and professional writing. Scientific societies and science educators have responded to the gap between student skills and employer expectations by recommending that undergraduate STEM curricula focus on cross-disciplinary, workplace-related skills in addition to discipline-specific skills and content knowledge. This study examined the disciplinary cultures in which STEM faculty teach and STEM students learn. We developed and validated the Survey of Teaching Beliefs and Practices for Undergraduates (STEP-U), which assesses the extent to which students value specific cross-disciplinary skills, as well as their experiences with teaching practices thought to reinforce such skills. We surveyed > 2000 students majoring in biological sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and computer science. We interviewed five students from each discipline to supplement survey data. Next, we surveyed faculty members (N = 147) within these disciplines regarding the extent to which they valued the same cross-disciplinary skills and how this influenced their teaching practices. Student values differed according to academic discipline, classroom experiences, and individual characteristics, such as prior research experience. We offer a conceptual framework by which the relationship between faculty values, faculty teaching practices, and student values can be studied. Specifically, it predicts that faculty values are embodied in their teaching practices, and student values are shaped by their classroom experiences, leading to transmission of disciplinary values from faculty to students. Future studies should examine these relationships across different disciplines and institution types.

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  1. Cohen (1988) considers ηp2 to indicate a small effect if at least .02, a medium effect if at least .13, and a large effect if at least .26.


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The preparation of this article was supported in part by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education program. This work has been approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB protocols # 375954-8 and 404045-9). We thank the faculty members and students who participated in this study.


This research was supported in part by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education program (#52008117).

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Correspondence to Gili Marbach-Ad.

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Marbach-Ad, G., Hunt, C. & Thompson, K.V. Exploring the Values Undergraduate Students Attribute to Cross-disciplinary Skills Needed for the Workplace: an Analysis of Five STEM Disciplines. J Sci Educ Technol 28, 452–469 (2019).

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