The Influence of Career Planning on Career Thoughts in STEM-Interested Undergraduates.

Author:Belser, Christopher T.
Position:Brief Reports - Report

Undergraduate career planning courses have shown efficacy in decreasing students' negative career thoughts; however, universities have minimally applied these courses to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) populations. This study compared the influence of a STEM-focused career planning course for undecided STEM students with a seminar course for decided STEM majors. An analysis of covariance with covariate adjustment revealed that undecided career planning students had lower adjusted mean scores on a measure of negative career thinking than the decided STEM majors after the first semester of college. The results provide support for the efficacy of STEM-focused career planning courses and measuring negative career thoughts with STEM undergraduates.

Keywords: career planning, career readiness, STEM initiatives, negative career thinking, covariate adjustment


Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields face a crisis of filling jobs with qualified workers, leading universities to develop undergraduate STEM recruitment and retention programs (Chen, 2013). Such programs are tasked with addressing underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in STEM fields (Chen, 2013). Career planning courses demonstrate efficacy for general undergraduate populations (Osborn, Howard, & Leierer, 2007; Reardon, Melvin, McClain, Peterson, & Bowman, 2015), but researchers have less frequently applied them to STEM-specific populations (Belser, Prescod, Daire, Dagley, & Young, 2017; Prescod, Daire, Young, Dagley, & Georgiopoulos, in press). The present study evaluated the influence of a STEM-focused career planning course on undergraduates' negative career thinking.

Career Planning and Negative Career Thinking

Undergraduate career planning courses use a systematic approach of providing career assessment, exploration, and planning services to students in an academic course format (Reardon & Fiore, 2014). In a review of studies on career planning courses, Reardon and Fiore (2014) found that 92% of the courses yielded positive student outcomes, including increased odds of graduation, decreased negative career thoughts, increased career self-efficacy, increased career decision self-efficacy, increased sense of life/ work meaning, and increased motivation. Undergraduates in a general career planning course also reported significantly lower posttest scores on the Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI; Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996), a measure of negative career thinking (Osborn et al., 2007). Negative career thinking also predicts career indecision, and reducing individuals' negative career thoughts may facilitate the career decision-making process (Saunders, Peterson, Sampson, & Reardon, 2000). Vocational identity, state and trait anxiety, and locus of control may also contribute to career indecision (Saunders et al., 2000). Chen (2013) noted that gender and ethnicity correlate with STEM attrition, with women and ethnic minorities more likely to leave a STEM major.

Career planning courses specific to STEM students are less common. Prescod et al. (in press) compared the CTI scores of both STEM-interested undergraduate students in a STEM-focused career planning course in their first semester of college and first-semester students with declared STEM majors. At the end of the semester, the career planning students' CTI scores significantly decreased, but the STEM-declared students reported lower CTI posttest scores than the career planning students. Belser et al. (2017) also found that reductions in negative career thinking during the first semester of college increased students' odds of being in a STEM major in their second year of college. Beyond these studies, researchers have largely overlooked structured career planning within undergraduate STEM initiatives.

Determining the efficacy of career planning courses may lead to cost-effective strategies in STEM initiatives. Because negative career thoughts correlate with indecision regarding major selection (Sampson et al...

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