Why do students decide to stop studying physics?


Higher education

How to Cite

Sneddon, P., Ferguson, E. and Yao, E. 2022. Why do students decide to stop studying physics?. Open Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 2, 1 (Oct. 2022), 48–58. DOI:https://doi.org/10.56230/osotl.22.


Each year, many students opt to study physics at higher education level in the UK – at the University of Glasgow, this number is around 180. A small number of these students, though, choose to leave this area after only one year. Over two academic years (2018-2019 and 2019-2020), there were 16 students such students. The work presented here explores the reasons why they left. Whilst the structure of degrees at UofG allows for students to make such a change, it was important to understand why students would choose to make such a significant change in case it pointed to negative factors in the way the course was being delivered. A study of literature found five main broad factors that influenced the decisions of students to change degree topic: content of course (including how it was delivered), gender stereotypes, peers and the wider university community, salary and job opportunities, and staff. These areas were explored in interviews and emails. It was found that course content and job prospects played a stronger role in influencing the students’ decisions than the other factors. Positives in other disciplines, and poor communication of the positives within physics, contributed to the students’ decisions. Similar issues may exist in any discipline; therefore, a better understanding of these motivating factors will allow us to improve our teaching and advising provisions to ensure that no-one is unnecessarily lost from a particular path.

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Copyright (c) 2022 Peter Sneddon, Erin Ferguson, Eric Yao