Assessing the Workplace Skills of Boise State University Biology and Geoscience Students

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies



Major Advisor

Craig White


The goal of my study was to determine if Boise State University students in the geoscience and biology departments had the skills necessary to meet the needs of their employers upon completing their degrees. Data were gathered mainly through surveys, which targeted three groups: employers of geoscientists and biologists in the Boise area; faculty in the geoscience, biology, and English departments at BSU; and seniors and juniors in the geoscience and biology departments at BSU. The surveys were designed to determine how important selected skills were to employers of scientists. Data were also gathered on the amount of writing students did at BSU and how well they wrote. Term papers were obtained from participating students in geomorphology and ecology and were graded using a rubric and a holistic scoring method. The results show that all three groups of participants considered technical expertise to be the single most important quality in a scientist. Technical expertise was the skill employers placed the most emphasis on when hiring and the skill employers were least likely to hire a person without. However, while the majority of faculty thought technical expertise was one of the top skills employers wanted improved, less than 40 percent of employers indicated that this skill needed improvement. For interpersonal skills, employers and students tended to place more emphasis on this skill than did faculty. Nearly as many employers wanted to see improvement in interpersonal skills as wanted to see improvement in technical expertise. One hundred percent of biology employers and 71 percent of geology employers said they would not hire someone without good interpersonal skills. Although 80 percent of employers and faculty wanted to see improvement in this area, few teachers emphasized it and few employees received further training in it. Nearly 70 percent of employers said they would hire someone without good written communication skills, yet all groups agreed that the ability to write clearly and concisely and the ability to organize information were very important. The rubric scores revealed three points. First, students were fairly good judges of their own writing ability. Second, a student's major appeared to be the strongest factor influencing rubric scores. Third, student writing scores were somewhat influenced by the number of writing points the students had earned. The findings of this study indicate that both interpersonal and written communications skills were greatly valued by employers, more so than faculty and students realized. In addition, departmental emphasis on written communication skills appeared to affect the quality of student writing. By emphasizing interpersonal and written communications skills in biology and geoscience courses, BSU could give students in these departments a better edge in the job market and contribute significantly to their long-term success.


The interdisciplinary studies associated with this thesis are: Education and Geosciences.

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