2.5 How the NWC REU and other extra-curricular experiences impact undergraduates' early career paths

Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 2:30 PM
604 (Washington State Convention Center)
Madison Lindsay Burnett, National Weather Center Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, Norman, OK; and D. LaDue
Manuscript (201.6 kB)

The quantitative (Likert-scale) elements of the National Weather Center Research Experience for Undergraduates (NWC REU) program evaluations have shown the program clearly affects graduate school plans, with impacts on career plans and participants' ability to see themselves as scientists less clear. Analysis of qualitative elements, and a separate qualitative study, showed that career direction went down because desirable new options were discovered. Attraction to research was more complicated: some were drawn to it, others turned away, but many remained unsure. Ongoing contact with past participants confirms the NWC REU has lasting effects beyond graduate school choices.

This study sought to better understand more generally how the extracurricular experiences of undergraduates affect their later career choices while also seeking to better understand the specific impact of this program. Participants and a comparable set of non-participants from the 2001-2005 application pool were selected because they are likely to be in or close to beginning careers. A survey was designed with four short-answer questions seeking the critical experiences that influenced their career paths. One 10-point Likert-scale question asked about overall career satisfaction. Surveys were sent to the 53 REU participants and the 147 junior and senior applicants with similar in-major GPAs. Solicitations to participate were first sent to both groups; paper surveys were then mailed to home addresses. To date, 15 mailed surveys were return undeliverable, and 27 REU participants (51%) and 9 (6%) non-participants have taken part in the study.

Nearly all responders said they had a research internship that was critical in their future decisions; only a few were at their home institution. Non-research, weather-related internships; involvement in professional organizations (AMS, NWA) and conferences; and undergraduate advising/mentorship were the next most common experiences to influence career paths, with 10-12 responses each. Among past participants, all but two specifically cited the NWC REU as a critical experience in their subsequent career path. Interestingly, the 10-point Likert-scale responses show that the NWC REU past-participants (median = 9) have a higher satisfaction level in their current careers than non-participants (median = 7), but with a low non-participant response rate this may only mean that relatively unhappy non-participants have replied thus far. These preliminary results indicate that research experience plays a very significant role in the career path chosen by the undergraduates in this study. Further, these results suggest that engagement in a work setting with a wide range of potential careers results in a happy confusion that leads to higher career satisfaction.

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