One considers many factors before choosing a career path, such as interest, accessibility of resources, academic ability, and social network support. As employment around the world in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines continues to increase, there is a need to understand why students select specific majors in an effort to increase overall enrollment and retention of STEM majors. The purpose of this study was to elucidate how undergraduate and graduate students were introduced to immunology, a STEM discipline, and how these experiences influenced their desire to pursue immunology as a major. The findings from this study show that a majority of both immunology and nonimmunology majors were initially exposed to immunology through an educational experience compared with a personal experience. Our data also indicate that the timing of the experience is critical, such that an educational experience at an advanced academic level, for example, in college, or a personal experience as a teen or young adult correlated with the decision to pursue an immunology degree. Moreover, graduate students studying immunology report that having research experiences and/or an experience with a mentor positively influenced their decision to pursue immunology. Overall, the findings from this research highlight the type and timing of exposures that influence individuals to major in the field of immunology, and these data can be used in the future to increase the number of immunology graduates.
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