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Does Doing Scientific Research in High School Correlate with Students Staying in Science? A Half-Century Retrospective Study

Abstract

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has declared in an advertising campaign that “you can’t start young enough” in science. However, there is no long-term data evaluating the effect of early exposure to original scientific research on producing career scientists. To address this issue, we examined a hands-on summer science research program for high school students that ran from 1958 to 1972. We compared participants in that program with science students that only began their hands-on research experience once in university. Our data indicate that students who are interested in science and have an opportunity to participate in original scientific research while in high school are significantly more likely (p < .005) to both enter and maintain a career in science compared to students whose first research experience didn’t occur until university. Our data suggest that more hands-on high school science research programs could help increase the number of students entering and maintaining scientific careers, relieving the growing concern that North America is losing its leadership status in the international scientific community.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada for financial support and both Thayer Academy and Tufts University for access to data on their alumni. Sandi Rankaduwa and Nancy Butcher helped with initial data collection. Constructive comments on the manuscript were provided by JoAnne Phillips. Greg Handrigan, David Hanauer, Christianne Macaulay and Gillian Gouchie provided statistical consultation.

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Correspondence to Richard J. Wassersug.

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Roberts, L.F., Wassersug, R.J. Does Doing Scientific Research in High School Correlate with Students Staying in Science? A Half-Century Retrospective Study. Res Sci Educ 39, 251–256 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-008-9083-z

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Keywords

  • Careers
  • Experience
  • Headstarting
  • High school
  • Research