Saturday, February 18, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Jasmine Truong, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
In response to a growing need for 21st century science and technology-related solutions, there has been a call to increase the number of individuals graduating with STEM degrees. A wealth of research has explored the experiences of underrepresented groups in science such as women, ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students in an attempt to increase their persistence in STEM degrees. However, there is a dearth of research that explores the experiences of other cultural groups that may struggle with persisting in a science-related major, such as religious students in biology. In this study, we explored the experiences of students from Judeo-Christian religious backgrounds in biology classes that may affect their decisions to persist in biology. We interviewed 28 religious students enrolled in biology classes at a large research-intensive university in the Southwest United States and analyzed the interview transcripts using grounded theory to identify themes emerging from the interviews. Our interviews indicate that religious students may struggle with navigating their religious identity in relation to biology. For instance, participants perceived disadvantages to being religious in biology. Students sometimes felt as though they are in the minority in their classes, felt mocked by their peers and instructors for their beliefs, and believed they would not be taken seriously as biologists because of their religious beliefs. We found that students sometimes restricted their religious identity or disassociated themselves from other religious individuals in order to reconcile their religious identity with biology. Students overwhelmingly perceived that their religious identities are more relevant for certain topics of biology instruction, such as evolution and ethics. However, despite these challenges, students believed that there are advantages to being religious in biology. They believed they could offer unique perspectives to biology and have a unique ability to communicate science to religious populations. Most students stated that their positive experiences in biology occurred when instructors acknowledged religion when teaching evolution, while their negative experiences occurred when instructors did not acknowledge religion or highlighted conflict between religion and biology. These findings indicate that although religious students face challenges in the biology classroom, which may influence their retention in the discipline, there are ways that instructors and peers can make religious students feel more accepted in the biology community.