Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Spring 3-19-2021


Mott, L. 2021. Exploring Factors in Choosing STEM Majors and Careers: Improving Science Education Through the Lens of Self-Determination Theory . Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Lauren Mott 2021.


Several barriers currently exist for students who could be successful in science/STEM careers but have not had the support they needed throughout their science/STEM education. This study of the literature applies Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to existing research to identify steps educators can take to remove these unnecessary barriers for their students. SDT defines competence, relatedness, and autonomy as three innate psychological needs that must be met for well-being. An exploratory review of the literature was conducted, and findings were organized using SDT. The results showed that competence, relatedness, and autonomy were all key factors in students’ self-determination of science/STEM careers. Evidence also suggested that these factors were nearly all interconnected, with the exception of the effect of competence on relatedness. By teaching science/STEM material while also implementing steps to support students’ feelings of competence, relatedness, and autonomy, we may be able to bridge the gender and racial gaps that exist in science/STEM while also increasing the percentages of students who see science/STEM as a viable career path for themselves.