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The influencing mechanism of research training on Chinese STEM Ph.D. students’ career interests


Using 9277 records from the 2020 China Graduate Student Satisfaction Survey, we examined the relationship between STEM Ph.D. students’ research training and their subsequent career interests. Based on the student involvement theory and social cognitive career theory, four dimensions of research training (quantitative involvement, qualitative involvement, and the advisors’ instrumental and psychosocial mentoring) and a linking mechanism between research productivity and self-efficacy (a belief in one’s ability to perform particular behaviors or courses of action) were identified. Using the number of participating research projects, research roles, advisor–student communication time, and advisors’ psychosocial support as proxies for these dimensions, we found that quantitative involvement, non-peripheral qualitative involvement, and advisors’ psychosocial mentoring are positively associated with students’ subsequent interest in research-oriented careers, indicating that research training is significantly associated with future career interests. The mechanism linking research training and career interests includes the path via research productivity and self-efficacy, but it does not apply to all research roles. The associations between quantitative involvement and career interests, and between advisors’ psychosocial support and career interests also show such mediation effect among students with nonresearch-oriented motivation, suggesting that they need explicit signals and direct psychosocial support to reshape their career outcome expectations.

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  2. In 2015, China initiated the Double First-Class University plan, which superseded the former Project 211 and Project 985. In the first round (2016–2020), 42 universities were designated as Double First-Class Universities (universities aiming to build both world-class universities and world-class disciplines) and 95 institutions were designated as First-Class Disciplines Universities (universities aiming to build only world-class disciplines). In this list, Double First-Class Universities are generally perceived as more prestigious than First-Class Disciplines Universities.


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We thank the editors and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments that have greatly strengthened our work. We appreciate the support from our colleagues in Academic Degrees & Graduate Education, Beijing, China, for the access to the survey data and special thanks to Liujian Gu at Tsinghua University for his comments on the methods.


This study was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71904100).

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XZ and CW conceived the main idea, designed the questionnaire and study, and investigated and collected the supporting materials. WZ organized the survey and preprocessed the data. XZ wrote codes for analysis and wrote the first draft. XZ, CW, and CN contributed to the final manuscript. CW coordinated and supervised the overall study.

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Correspondence to Chuanyi Wang.

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Zheng, X., Zhou, W., Ni, C. et al. The influencing mechanism of research training on Chinese STEM Ph.D. students’ career interests. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. (2022).

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  • Research training
  • Career interest
  • Doctoral education
  • STEM Ph.D. students
  • China