Increasing cancer workforce diversity is a priority for the National Cancer Institute. Cancer research encompasses a wide range of disciplines including basic, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences, but many research development programs are narrowly focused. Our aim was two-fold: to describe undergraduate students’ knowledge of and interest in cancer research careers and to identify factors associated with having ever considered a cancer research career. Undergraduate students (n = 857) completed a paper questionnaire. Most students associated cancer careers with bench science and healthcare or public health, but less so for applied fields. Most respondents (69%) received career counseling in high school but only 4% had cancer-specific career counseling. Nearly half the respondents (49%) indicated they or an immediate family member had been diagnosed with cancer, and 17% had attended a cancer appointment. Only 10% of respondents indicated that they had ever considered a career in cancer research. Associated factors included cancer-specific career counseling (odds ratio [OR] 8.05; 95% confidence interval [CI] 3.60, 18.03), attended a cancer appointment (OR 2.37; 95% CI 1.34, 4.20), being slightly (vs. very) worried about developing cancer (OR 0.32; 95% CI 0.15, 0.68), and Other (vs. White) race (OR 2.83; 95% CI 1.34, 5.97). Personal experience with cancer and knowledge of cancer careers appear to be driving factors in career choice for cancer research. Increasing student exposure to cancer careers, possibly in junior high or high school, may be one mechanism for recruiting more underrepresented undergraduate students into cancer-related fields of study.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health