IRIS: Interests & Recruitment in Science (completed)

Factors influencing recruitment, retention and gender equity in science, technology and mathematics higher education

About IRIS

IRIS is a European research project that received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme from 2009-2012, but which still is still ongoing through produces publications and dissemination  activities. The Project was coordinated from the Physics Education section at the Department of Physics, University of Oslo (Ellen K. Henriksen) in collaboration With the Norwegian Centre for Science Education . The same research group works with a related Norwegian research project, Lily.

The other participating research institutions in IRIS are:

In addition to these six institutions, a network of international Associated partners exists, many of whom have collected data in their respective countries using the questionnaire developed in IRIS.

International IRIS project home page

IRIS addresses the challenge that few young people in general, and women in particular, choose to pursue an education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM. The objective of IRIS is to develop knowledge and recommendations informed by evidence on how young people, and women in particular, may come to see STEM as an educational choice that is right for them and to persist in their STEM education until graduation. Specifically, the project addresses the following questions:

  1. What are the priorities, values and experiences on which young people base their educational choice?
  2. What are the success factors for interventions aimed at recruiting more young people (women in particular) to higher STEM education?
  3. How do STEM students who drop out/opt out before graduation, explain their choice?

Theoretical frameworks
An expectancy-value model of achievement-related choices offers a comprehensive framework for analysing the factors influencing young people's educational choice. IRIS also draws on sociological theory describing cultural liberation and how young people depend less than earlier generations on guidance from parents, teachers and other authorities when choosing their lifestyle and education. IRIS considers young people's identity work and uses a narrative approach to understand how young people develop their educational choice and defend and explain it to themselves and to their "significant others". IRIS also employs feminist perspectives on women's participation in STEM. These theoretical perspectives are described (with ample references to research literature) in the various IRIS project deliverables and publications, notably the book Understanding student participation and Choice in science education, see below.

Research Methods
The questionnaire IRIS Q was completed by almost 7000 STEM students in 5 European countries in 2010-2011. It comprised 65 items covering school science experiences, inspiration for choice of education, expectations for future job, students’ first-year experiences, and attitudes to gender Equity in STEM. The target population was first-year students within 8 STEM disciplines defined through the ISCED Classification. IRIS also encompasses a range of qualitative and quantitative modules, including a combined questionnaire, focus group and interview study of the impact of school science curriculum on students’ subject choices; a study of first-year female STEM students’ written narratives of how they came to choose STEM, and an interview study of the narratives of first-year students as they negotiate whether to stay or leave STEM higher education programmes.

Main results
Through literature review, data collection and analysis, reflection and discussion, IRIS has generated insights into young people’s educational choice processes and their relationship to STEM. In the project publishable summary, results are listed under the following headings: Educational choice as an ongoing process; Interest, self realisation and identity; The impact of school, teachers and mentors; Out-of-school influences; Staying in STEM, leaving STEM?, and Females in STEM.

IRIS book published in 2014:

Henriksen, EK, Dillon, J. and Ryder, J. (eds.), 2014: Understanding student participation and choice in science and technology education. Dordrecht: Springer,  ISBN 978-94-007-7792-7.

"Drawing on data generated by the EU’s Interests and Recruitment in Science (IRIS) project, this volume examines the issue of young people’s participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. With an especial focus on female participation, the chapters offer analysis deploying varied theoretical frameworks, including sociology, social psychology, and gender studies.

The material also includes reviews of relevant research in science education, and summaries of empirical data concerning student choices in STEM disciplines in five European countries.Featuring both quantitative and qualitative analyses, the book makes a substantial contribution to the developing theoretical agenda in STEM education. It augments available empirical data and identifies strategies in policy-making that could lead to improved participation—and gender balance—in STEM disciplines. The majority of the chapter authors are IRIS project members, with additional chapters written by specially invited contributors. The book provides researchers and policy makers alike with a comprehensive and authoritative exploration of the core issues in STEM educational participation."

IRIS has resulted in a number of publications in international Research journals; see the international project page for details.


Tags: Educational choice, science and technology education, STEM choice, recruitment, gender and science and technology
Published Mar. 7, 2014 1:34 PM - Last modified Oct. 26, 2018 2:02 PM