Failure and setbacks are inevitable in STEM learning, and navigating through setbacks is crucial to success. Although the development of the ability to navigate scientific obstacles is widely recognized, it has been largely unexplored in undergraduate research. Moreover, the instruction in science classes does not emphasize how to cope with failure. Corwin et al. (2022) investigated how undergraduates respond to research-based failures and challenges, including their emotional and behavioral responses and their perceived outcomes of these setbacks, and how these factors differ by students’ demographics and courses. 


To examine how students respond to their setbacks and failures in research, Corwin et al. (2022) incorporated a cross-sectional study (two groups of students participated in the study at the same time) involving 668 undergraduate students from two sequential biology classes. Students in BIO 140 were introduced to “how habitat type and degradation can influence biodiversity” and were required to learn ecology and general research skills, while students in BIO 150 were expected to design and carry out their own research projects using DNA barcoding from what they learned in BIO140. Additionally, 98 percent of the students in BIO 150 have taken BIO 140 in the past. Students in both classes were later then asked to describe their failures, emotions, coping responses, and lessons learned from their failures at a point when they were most likely to experience challenges or failures in research. As a result, 85% of the students in both classes mentioned negative emotions in response to challenges in research, with disappointment being the most frequent, followed by frustration, and finally confusion. Additionally, despite the negative emotions experienced in research challenges, most students (69%) were adaptive in coping with their challenges in research. For instance, the most frequently mentioned adaptive coping strategies were direct problem-solving and emotional regulation. Overall, students from both classes learned from challenges and failures and showed enhanced coping skills in response to setbacks in research, increased understanding about failures in science, and strengthened caution in conducting research. 


Corwin et al.’s (2022) study helps instructors of STEM classes consider structuring challenges and failures in science research as a learning opportunity for students. Specifically, educators can allow students to experience challenges and negative emotions, learn from them, and practice coping skills as a way to help them develop resilience as scientists. In relation to EPIC, the main focus of this research is the ability to navigate scientific obstacles, which echoes EPIC’s goal of preparing students to better cope with their failures in STEM learning. The findings from this study also shed light on potential future intervention studies on how to help students succeed at their failures in STEM learning.


To check out more about Corwin et al.’s (2022) study, check out the link to retrieve this article:


This post was written by Katelyn Chow. 



Corwin, L. A., Ramsey, M. E., Vance, E. A., Woolner, E., Maiden, S., Gustafson, N., & Harsh, J. A. (2022). Students’ Emotions, Perceived Coping, and Outcomes in Response to Research-Based Challenges and Failures in Two Sequential CUREs. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 21(2), ar23.