This article is published in the November 2017 issue.

Computing Students with Formal Research Experience in College More Likely to Apply to Graduate School and Pursue a Ph.D.

November infographic

CERP looked at the rate at which students applied to and enrolled in a graduate program immediately after college. Students who had participated in formal research during their college career were significantly more likely to: (a) have applied to a graduate program and (b) enroll in a Ph.D. program than students who had never engaged in formal research, p < .05. These data suggest students who engage in formal research during college are more motivated to pursue graduate work, and to pursue a Ph.D. specifically, compared to students who do not engage with formal research during college. These data do not suggest a causal link between formal research experience and graduate school pursuit (e.g., students who pursue formal research may already intend to pursue graduate school). However, the findings are consistent with other education research that finds students’ intentions to pursue graduate school increase after participating in formal research [1].

During the spring semester of 2017, CERP collected data from a sample of students graduating with a computing major (N = 647). To assess involvement with formal research, students were told “A formal research experience is an experience you apply for and through which you work closely with a mentor/research advisor,” and were asked to indicate whether they had engaged in formal research during college. N = 223 indicated they had been involved with formal research; N = 424 indicated they had not.

To assess whether students had applied to graduate school, students were asked “During the 2016-2017 school year, did you apply to graduate school?” (Yes/No).

Students were then asked “What will you be doing in the fall of 2017?” (Working/Attending Graduate School/Other). N = 89 students said they would be attending graduate school. Those students were asked “What type of degree will you be pursuing?” (Master’s continuation of a joint BS/MS program; Terminal Master’s; Master’s [intend a Ph.D., but department requires enrollment in a Master’s program to start]; Ph.D.; Other). Students’ programs were classified based on whether they were enrolled in a Ph.D. program. Ph.D. students included those who indicated they were enrolled in either a Master’s program (and intend a Ph.D.), or Ph.D. program; all other students were categorized as not enrolled in a Ph.D. program.

Chi square tests were used to test for group differences in application and enrollment rates. Results indicated students with formal research experience were significantly more likely to have applied to graduate school, Χ(1) = 49.18, p < .001. Further, among students who were enrolled in a graduate program in the fall, students with research experience were significantly more likely to be enrolled in a graduate program than students without research experience, Χ(1) = 4.45, p < .05.


[1] Russell, S. H., Hancock, M. P., & McCullough, J. 2007. The pipeline: benefits of undergraduate research experiences. Science. 316, 548-549.