Successful teaching should focus first on the learners (Brewer & Movahedazarhouligh, 2018; Kim et al., 2019; Schmoker, 2018). Beaton et al. (2021) found that, while many teachers believed their students were inadequately prepared, it was impossible to know whether the "unpreparedness" actually resulted from students' inadequacies or from unrealistic teacher expectations. Teachers must be concerned not only with what students learn, but also, with how and why they learn. People have a tendency to excel in, or at least to devote more efforts and energy to, the activities they want. Whether teachers realize it or not, students' learning is influenced by their attitudes, values, interests, and motivation.
Effective teaching requires knowing students and understanding how they learn. Better undergraduate education begins with a more complete and informed understanding of students and learning (Iloh, 2018).
Improving teaching should be based in part on a better understanding of our changing student body. These changes are no surprise to faculty; we have to accept change and experience the consequences daily in the classroom. Our improvement in practice should also be based on a better understanding of the learning needs of students enrolled in universities today. It is our responsibility as university teachers to understand how students have changed and to adjust our instruction accordingly. Moreover, improvement in teaching practice should be informed by seeing interconnections among students' experiences. A student's life is a web of interconnected experiences, influences, and activities, all of which interact in very complex ways. Faculty must better understand and respond to the fact that university learning is just one part of students' lives, cluttered additionally with work, family obligations, financial stresses, and sometimes personal problems. Teaching and learning are not an isolated island. To conduct teaching effectively, one cannot ignore these multiple influences. Success with students depends in part on clearer understandings of how today's universities have changed, and an acceptance of those differences. Such understanding will help teachers to adapt their teaching so that it better connects with what we know about teaching and learning (Kalyani & Rajasekaran, 2018; Ramma et al., 2018; Subramani & Iyappan, 2018).
As discussed above, there is a need for studies of students' characteristics when they are entering university. This study will explore some of those characteristics, investigate factors affecting choice of majors, and address the question of why students continue to pursue a particular major.
1.1 Literature review
The study by Belser et al. (2018) found that the relationship between the field of education and career opportunities in that field to be the single most significant factor affecting the retention of science students after two or three years of study at university. Belser et al. used the same factors to explore what influences students' choice of major at the time of enrollment. These factors included family members, teachers or counselors, other adults, friends or fellow students, high school/college courses, work experiences, volunteer or travel experiences, students' own talents in the field, background in the field, personal enjoyment, interest, and the importance of the field as preparation for intended profession or career. Students in this study also reported that college courses had an effect on them. With respect to encouraging an interest in science, "students commented that they liked the course, or that the material was interesting, that it increased their interest in that field, or made them want to take more courses in the field, etc". Parental influences on the decision to study science were also reported in this study.
In a study by Hughes (2018), intended career also was reported as factor affecting students' retention in science. When looking at the reasons why students wanted to switch to other fields (from science), this study found that peer relations, instructional quality, and coursework contributed to students' decisions. This study suggests that "students who are highly motivated to make a contribution to society, to work with people (as opposed to things), to work in an attractive environment, and to have variety in their jobs are more likely to leave the sciences".
When looking for the causes of defection from science, Xu (2018) applied both quantitative and qualitative methods of research. Four factors were explored quantitatively: career plans, career motivations, education plans, and attributions for success. Students were asked if they would stay in science or not after graduating. Students were also asked what motivates them in seeking particular types of work. Education plans asked students if they would continue their education full time, or work and then return university, or plan to combine part-time study with work. And the last factor, attributions for success, explored students' perceptions of the causes of success in science. The qualitative component of the study involved interviews addressing the topics of peer group relationships, instructor student relationships, and reasons for program choice. The study concluded that the majority of science students intended to stay in their field of choice and continue their education. In addition, there were few gender differences significant in this research.