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Positive Lab Environment Retains Undergrads in Research Work

Negative lab environment is forcing many life sciences undergraduates to drop out of their research programs before graduation or even during their first year working the lab, a new study by Arizona State University (ASU) researchers have revealed.

Research conducted by a group of 14 undergraduate students with LEAP Scholars program found nearly half of the students considering leaving their undergraduate research, and 50 percent of them actually followed through and left.

The student group led by Sara Brownell, Associate Professor at the School of Life Sciences, and the University of Central Florida Assistant Professor Katelyn Cooper, surveyed more than 750 life sciences undergraduates doing research in 25 public institutions across the nation.

“If 50% of students consider leaving their undergraduate research experience, then that means that we have a structural problem with how we are integrating students in undergraduate research,” said senior author Brownell.

Positive lab environment and social interactions, inclusion, flexible schedules are some of the factors that help in retaining the undergraduate researchers in the field.

The study found that men were more likely to stay in research due to its career importance and were also more likely to leave because they didn’t enjoy their specific lab tasks, whereas women were more likely to consider leaving because of a lack of flexibility in the lab.

Students from the underrepresented minority groups are more likely to leave research than their white peers because they felt they were not learning important skills.

“We were excited to identify factors that disproportionately affected underrepresented and marginalized students’ decisions to leave research,” said graduate student researcher Logan Gin. “It will be challenging to identify solutions, but identifying these issues is a critical step in developing a more diverse and inclusive scientific community.”

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