Identifying future scientists: Predicting persistence into research training

Richard McGee*, Jill L. Keller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


This study used semistructured interviews and grounded theory to look for characteristics among college undergraduates that predicted persistence into Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. training. Participants in the summer undergraduate and postbaccalaureate research programs at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine were interviewed at the start, near the end, and 8-12 months after their research experience. Of more than 200 themes considered, five characteristics predicted those students who went on to Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. training or to M.D. training intending to do research: 1) Curiosity to discover the unknown, 2) Enjoyment of problem solving, 3) A high level of independence, 4) The desire to help others indirectly through research, and 5) A flexible, minimally structured approach to the future. Web-based surveys with different students confirmed the high frequency of curiosity and/or problem solving as the primary reason students planned research careers. No evidence was found for differences among men, women, and minority and nonminority students. Although these results seem logical compared with successful scientists, their constancy, predictive capabilities, and sharp contrast to students who chose clinical medicine were striking. These results provide important insights into selection and motivation of potential biomedical scientists and the early experiences that will motivate them toward research careers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-331
Number of pages16
JournalCBE life sciences education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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