in the year 2010. In 1998 1.2 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded in the United States, and 85,079 (7.1%) of those students majored in the life sciences (National Science Foundation and National Science Board, 2000). Comparison of the number of jobs and the number of majors reveals that most biology majors do not enter research as a career. However, surveys done in 1995-1996 showed that only 6% of life science graduates expected their bachelor’s degree to be the end of their formal education. Thirty-eight percent planned to obtain masters, 29% doctorates, and 27% professional degrees. In the late 1990s, approximately 6,500 PhDs in the life sciences were granted each year. Among entering college students in the fall of 2001, 7% planned to major in a biological science (University of California et al., 2001). Only 2% of freshmen listed scientific researcher or college teacher as a probable career, 6% said physician, and almost 15% listed undecided.

Entering students encountered faculty who spent 57% of their time on teaching-related activities and 15% on research, although at research or doctoral institutions, and among full professors the amount of time devoted to teaching was lower (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). In the natural sciences approximately 86% of faculty reported lecturing as their primary method of instruction (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Revised teaching approaches that appeal more to students may encourage more talented undergraduates to consider scientific careers.


In October 2000, the Board on Life Sciences of the National Research Council initiated this study, Undergraduate Biology Education to Prepare Research Scientists for the 21st Century. The idea for the study emerged from discussions between Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, and officials at NIH and HHMI who were concerned about the undergraduate education of future researchers. Over the past decade, both organizations had observed increases in the amount of expertise in mathematics and the physical and information sciences required for biomedical research. NIH and HHMI committed to funding Bio2010, as this study came to be known, to examine ways of strengthening the chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computer science background of undergraduate biology majors in ways that would enable these students to make stronger interdisciplinary connections in their future research.

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