STEM Is Not a Monolith: A Preliminary Analysis of Variations in STEM Disciplinary Cultures and Implications for Change

CBE Life Sci Educ. 2019 Dec;18(4):mr4. doi: 10.1187/cbe.19-02-0038.


Research suggests that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments are a productive unit of focus for systemic change efforts. In particular, they are relatively coherent units of culture, and cultural changes are critical to creating sustainable improvements. However, the STEM disciplines are often treated as a monolith in change literature, and unique aspects of these different disciplinary cultures-and consequences for change efforts-remain somewhat underdeveloped. This exploratory study focuses on similarities and differences among STEM disciplinary cultures, drawing on data gathered from scholars in discipline-based education research who attended two sessions at the 2017 Transforming Research in Undergraduate STEM Education conference. Our analyses of these data help begin to characterize disciplinary cultures using the theoretical lens of four frames: structures, symbols, power, and people. We find preliminary evidence for both similarities and differences among the cultures of STEM disciplines. Implications for change efforts and future directions for research are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Curriculum
  • Engineering / education*
  • Faculty
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Mathematics / education*
  • Science / education*
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Technology / education*