Do biology majors really differ from non–STEM majors?

Sehoya Cotner, Seth Thompson, Robin Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Recent calls to action urge sweeping reform in science education, advocating for improved learning for all students—including those majoring in fields beyond the sciences. However, little work has been done to characterize the differences—if any exist—between students planning a career in science and those studying other disciplines. We describe an attempt to clarify, in broad terms, how non–STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors differ from life sciences majors, and how they are similar. Using survey responses and institutional data, we find that non–STEM majors are not unilaterally science averse; non–STEM majors are more likely than biology majors to hold misconceptions about the nature of science, yet they are not completely ignorant of how science works; non–STEM majors are less likely than biology majors to see science as personally relevant; and non–STEM majors populations are likely to be more diverse—with respect to incoming knowledge, perceptions, backgrounds, and skills—than a biology majors population. We encourage science educators to consider these characteristics when designing curricula for future scientists or simply for a well-informed citizenry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberar48
JournalCBE life sciences education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 S. Cotner et al.


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