© 2019

Talking about Leaving Revisited

Persistence, Relocation, and Loss in Undergraduate STEM Education

  • Elaine Seymour
  • Anne-Barrie Hunter

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxii
  2. Elaine Seymour, Anne-Barrie Hunter, Timothy J. Weston
    Pages 1-53
  3. Timothy J. Weston
    Pages 55-85
  4. Heather Thiry, Timothy J. Weston
    Pages 115-135
  5. Raquel P. Harper, Timothy J. Weston, Elaine Seymour
    Pages 149-195
  6. Timothy J. Weston, Elaine Seymour, Andrew K. Koch, Brent M. Drake
    Pages 197-243
  7. Raquel P. Harper, Timothy J. Weston, Elaine Seymour
    Pages 245-276
  8. Dana G. Holland
    Pages 277-327
  9. Dana G. Holland, Raquel P. Harper, Anne-Barrie Hunter, Timothy J. Weston, Elaine Seymour
    Pages 329-369
  10. Dana G. Holland, Raquel P. Harper, Elaine Seymour
    Pages 371-398
  11. Heather Thiry
    Pages 399-436
  12. Elaine Seymour
    Pages 437-473
  13. Back Matter
    Pages 475-528

About this book


​Talking about Leaving Revisited discusses findings from a five-year study that explores the extent, nature, and contributory causes of field-switching both from and among “STEM” majors, and what enables persistence to graduation. The book reflects on what has and has not changed since publication of Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences (Elaine Seymour & Nancy M. Hewitt, Westview Press, 1997).  With the editors’ guidance, the authors of each chapter collaborate to address key questions, drawing on findings from each related study source: national and institutional data, interviews with faculty and students, structured observations and student assessments of teaching methods in STEM gateway courses. Pitched to a wide audience, engaging in style, and richly illustrated in the interviewees’ own words, this book affords the most comprehensive explanatory account to date of persistence, relocation and loss in undergraduate sciences.
  • Comprehensively addresses the causes of loss from undergraduate STEM majors—an issue of ongoing national concern.
  • Presents critical research relevant for nationwide STEM education reform efforts.
  • Explores the reasons why talented undergraduates abandon STEM majors.
  • Dispels popular causal myths about why students choose to leave STEM majors.


STEM Education Switching from STEM Switching to STEM Persistence in STEM Change in Higher Education Interest and Choice High School to College: Preparation and Transition Learning Experiences Gateway Courses STEM Majors Teaching Practices Relocation Career Choices

Editors and affiliations

  • Elaine Seymour
    • 1
  • Anne-Barrie Hunter
    • 2
  1. 1.Ethnography & Evaluation Research (E&ER)University of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Ethnography & Evaluation Research (E&ER), University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA, Center for STEM LearningUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

About the editors

Elaine Seymour is co-founder and director emerita of Ethnography & Evaluation Research (E&ER) at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB). Her work has focused on change in STEM education and career paths, including efforts to improve quality, access, and diversity. Her best-known work, co-authored with Nancy M. Hewitt, Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences, (1997) which the current volume revisits and extends, is widely cited for its contribution to the nationwide effort to improve undergraduate STEM education. In addition to her many articles, published volumes by Seymour and E&ER members based on their research include: Talking about Disability: The Education and Work Experiences of Undergraduates with Disabilities in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Majors (1998); Partners in Innovation: Teaching Assistants in College Science Courses (2005) which draws on E&ER’s evaluation studies of science education reform initiatives; and Undergraduate Research in the Sciences: Engaging Students in Real Science (2010), a comprehensive study of the benefits and costs of undergraduate research and the processes whereby these arise.  She also contributed chapters on the processes of change and resistance to change to Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (2015). In recognition of her research on women in science and engineering, WEPAN awarded her their 2002 Betty Vetter Award for Research, and, in 2006, she testified before Congress on trends and needs in STEM education reform. To meet the needs of classroom innovators for course evaluation methods relevant to their learning objectives, she co-developed, and continues to expand the scope of, the widely-used Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG) online instrument that focuses exclusively on what students gain from their courses. She is a sociologist and a British-American whose education and career have been conducted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anne-Barrie Hunter is co-director of Ethnography & Evaluation Research and program manager for the Center for STEM Learning at the University of Colorado Boulder. Hunter worked with Seymour and Hewitt on the original Talking about Leaving study. Since then, she has collaborated on many E&ER research and evaluation projects focused on postsecondary STEM education improvement, specializing in those aimed at persistence to graduation of students historically under-represented in STEM fields. She and Seymour have worked closely on multiple projects, notably in co-authoring Talking about Disability: The Education and Work Experience of Graduates and Undergraduates with Disabilities in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Majors (1998) and Undergraduate Research in the Sciences: Engaging Students in Real Science (2010), to which Hunter contributed; a qualitative meta-analysis of evidence on the outcomes of undergraduate research, identification of the specific benefits of ‘authentic’ research experiences and of the costs and benefits to faculty of UR engagement. Grounded in this research, she co-developed E&ER’s Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA) survey, a free, online, validated evaluation instrument for the assessment of UR programs in STEM fields. Hunter has acted as PI, co-PI, external evaluator and consultant for numerous STEM education improvement projects, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Undergraduate Science Education Program and Inclusive Excellence grants, as well as multiple NSF projects, notably awards that support the advancement of women physicists, climate change education initiatives, and institutional STEM transformation efforts. She was the PI for the five-year, multiple methods study on which the present volume is based; is co-PI for an NSF grant to align administrative systems to enable easier two-year college transfers and is an external evaluator for the Science Technology Center at CU Boulder. Her interests focus on institutional change to support quality STEM education and on faculty professional development in pedagogy that promotes and sustains broader participation in college STEM education.

Bibliographic information


“I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about improving student persistence. It has many suggestions for how departments should emphasize career opportunities in physics, improve pedagogy in introductory courses, examine grading policies, provide support to those with in - adequate high school preparation, and improve STEM preparation at the high school level.” (Stephanie Chasteen, Physics Today, January, 2021)