Skip to content

Blog post

Investigating school students’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career goals in Turkey

Vesife Hatisaru, Lecturer in Mathematics Education at Edith Cowan University Delyse Clayden, Disability advocate

In Turkey, mathematics and science questions make up the bulk of national standardised examinations at the end of lower and upper secondary education, and teaching practices are largely influenced by these exams. This saturated focus on STEM still produces an overall positive attitude from students towards the STEM subjects. This is despite the broad agreement that teacher-directed learning impacts negatively on student attitudes (Hasni & Potvin, 2015). Certain STEM-related careers are appealing to students (such as engineering); however, the viability of pursuing certain STEM careers such as mathematics has dropped at university level due to employment conditions. Mathematics graduates are not automatically entitled to become mathematics teachers, with more specific career trajectories within Turkey influencing their decision to pursue STEM subject careers (see Hatisaru, 2021a).

With previous research focused on gender-based motivations (see Piatek-Jiminez et al., 2018), a disparity in these results indicates other influential factors at play in the career pursuits towards STEM. Understanding the reasons why students chose STEM areas can lead to the development of better resources for schools promoting STEM-related professions.

‘Understanding the reasons why students chose STEM areas can lead to the development of better resources for schools promoting STEM-related professions.’

In the Draw-a-Mathematics-Classroom (DAMC) study, Hatisaru (2021a) investigated the determinants of a sample of Turkish lower secondary students’ interests to STEM careers (47 males and 48 females; aged 11–13 years old). A drawing task – combined with open-ended questions asking about students’ career goals after high school – was used in three lower secondary schools located in Ankara.

Main findings

The possible influence of various factors is highlighted when students make decisions on their educational choices and career goals. Behaviour variables such as self-belief and individual interests are two such variables. Potential long-term benefits played a part in the decisions of students, with a tendency towards social or cultural factors such as the desire to help others in the community.

Two significant drivers were identified within the research concerning student career goals. One was a sense of altruism, the concern and wellbeing for other humans, with strong moral and cultural links. The other was high levels of patriotism and commitment to country. Interestingly, the impact of a family role model in career choice was negligible in the data (Sjaastad, 2012).

Overall, 54 of the 88 students presented positive intentions towards STEM-related careers (figure 1) and 34 of them moved towards non-STEM career (figure 2) choices. Many students stated they wished to be a doctor when they graduated, because it was a highly respected and important job. Medical careers represented 19 responses in total, next to the various engineering careers with 18 responses.

Figure 1: Summary of STEM related career responses

The various descriptions of either STEM or non-STEM career goal reasons in the open-ended question pointed directly to the interests of the student’s impacting choice:

‘Paediatrician, because I have interest in both children and medicine.’ (Female, aged 12)

‘Engineering, because I am interested in mathematics.’ (Female, aged 13)

When looking at non-STEM careers, judge and lawyer were the most recorded goals, with policeman close in popularity. The motives of students towards these careers were still based on interests, but more altruistic than simply based on interest:

‘Lawyer. I like defending others and I defend well.’ (Male, aged 13)

‘I want to study law and become a judge. I trust my judgements and communication and I think I am fair.’ (Female, aged 13).

Figure 2: Summary of non-STEM related career responses


The DAMC study aimed to understand the reasons for choosing specific career goals, not simply the choice of career itself. Building on previous research (see Hatisaru, 2021b) the classroom environment and its long-term impact on favourable, sustainable STEM education is expanded on.

When developing and implementing STEM initiatives in schools, educators should focus on societal factors and student interests as driving factors for students choosing STEM careers. How classrooms reflect the students’ interests and encourages them to develop their STEM skills can be a deciding factor for their future pursuits. To make STEM more interesting for students, teachers need to be engaging and focus more on student interaction in physical activities to help keep them motivated. Subjects such as mathematics, as seen by students to be individual tasks, done at desks with minimal interaction (Hatisaru, 2021b), could evolve into more engaging, open-ended group tasks that promote a more positive attitude to STEM-related long-term learning and careers.


Hasni, A., & Potvin, P. (2015). Student’s interest in science and technology and its relationships with teaching methods, family context and self-efficacy. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 10(3), 337–366.

Hatisaru, V. (2021a). Theory-driven determinants of school students’ STEM career goals: A preliminary investigation. European Journal of STEM Education, 6(1), 02.

Hatisaru, V. (2021b). School students’ depictions of mathematics teaching and learning practices. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 13(2), 199–214.

Piatek-Jimenez, K., Cribbs, J., & Gill, N. (2018). College students’ perceptions of gender stereotypes: Making connections to the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. International Journal of Science Education, 40(12), 1432–1454. 

Sjaastad, J. (2012). Sources of inspiration: The role of significant persons in young people’s choice of science in higher education. International Journal of Science Education, 34(10), 1615–1636.