Talking about Leaving, Revisited: Exploring Current Patterns of Undergraduate Persistence in the Sciences

Talking about Leaving Revisited will investigate why rates of switching from STEM majors are largely unchanged despite efforts over the past 15 years to improve college science teaching. The study’s principal investigators are Mark Connolly of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; and Anne-Barrie Hunter, co-director of Ethnography and Evaluation Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The five-year study, co-funded by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, builds on research by Elaine Seymour and Nancy Hewitt that found poor teaching was the most significant influence on STEM majors’ decisions to switch fields. Seymour and Hewitt’s 1997 book Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences subsequently spurred nationwide efforts to improve teaching in STEM courses and to retain more students of color and women into STEM fields.

The research team, which includes Seymour, will return to the seven original institutions to examine STEM majors’ patterns of persistence and switching, this time in light of national efforts to improve undergraduate education. As in the original study, the research team will interview more than 400 undergraduates in order to compare “persisters” and “switchers.” The present study, however, will also examine foundational courses in mathematics and science, which are known to discourage otherwise talented students. To understand how STEM majors’ decisions to persist or switch are influenced by these courses, the research team will interview instructors, observe their classroom teaching practices, and gather data from enrolled students.

To help administrators, policymakers, and researchers understand why so many students are still leaving STEM majors and what might help more of them persist, the UW-CU research team will disseminate findings regularly during the next five years, culminating in publication of a book tentatively titled Talking about Leaving Revisited.


Alfred P. Sloan Foundation & National Science Foundation

Project Website


Completed on August 31, 2018

Contact Information

Mark Connolly, Principal Investigator
Phone: (608) 263-4233