The importance of student belonging in the sciences

Starting university can be a daunting experience for students.

It’s a time of transition and change, where students are expected to adapt to new surroundings, make new friends, and navigate the demands of academic life independently. 

Building a sense of belonging is particularly significant for science students; the demanding nature of their courses can make them feel isolated and disconnected from their peers and the university community.

For some students, the university experience can be isolating.

Providing the tools to develop a support network can help them navigate the challenges of their coursework and give them a sense of purpose and direction - a proven recipe for success2, 3.

By understanding the importance of student belonging and taking steps to foster it, educators can create a more supportive and inclusive environment for all students. With this in mind, this blog will explore the following themes:

  • what student belonging is,
  • why it matters, and
  • how to create a sense of belonging in the classroom.

What does it mean to belong?

Student belonging refers to the sense of connection and acceptance that a student experiences within their university community4. It is the feeling of being a part of something bigger, where one's presence and contributions are valued and appreciated4.

A photo of a group of graduating students in robes with their backs to the camera. They have all thrown their graduation caps into the air.

How do you make your students feel like they belong at your institution?

An important aspect of a positive university experience, belonging helps students feel connected to their peers, educators, and the university itself. It can foster a sense of community and has the potential to provide students with a support network that can be invaluable during their time in university.

The benefits of helping your science students belong

The benefits of student belonging are numerous and far-reaching. Research has shown that students who experience a strong sense of belonging at university are more likely to have better mental health, higher academic performance, and increased retention rates2.

When it comes to the sciences, collaboration is key. Science students are often required to work on assignments with their peers, and the ability to work effectively in a team is a critical skill for success in many scientific fields. Collaboration not only helps students complete assignments, but it also provides opportunities for students to learn from each other and to develop their interpersonal skills.

Related: Overcoming group work challenges: a practical approach »

When science students feel like they belong to a supportive community, they are more likely to share their ideas and perspectives and to seek out the input of their peers5. This type of collaboration may lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Furthermore, collaboration can also help science students build relationships with their peers, which can be invaluable in providing support and motivation. When students feel connected to their peers, they are more likely to persist in the face of challenges and to seek out help when they need it6.

Strategies for creating a culture of belonging in schools

There are several strategies that educators can use to foster college student belonging, as outlined by Joanna West, inclusion officer at the University of Luxembourg8:

  • Training faculty and students in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • Ice-breaker activities with first-year students
  • Facilitating interactions between faculty and students
  • Opportunities for mentoring and volunteer work
  • Promoting mindfulness

You can try to build a sense of community in the classroom through activities such as group work and class discussions. Additionally, promoting inclusion and diversity on campus can help create a supportive and accepting environment for all students.

How edtech can help

Unsurprisingly, students that report having a great experience at university tend to have better access to online resources, sharing platforms, and experiences personalized to their needs1.

For science students, edtech can help them feel a sense of belonging within their field. Science can be an intimidating subject for some students, and they may feel like they don't have the same background knowledge or aptitude as their peers.

A young woman wearing a white lab coat uses a microscope. There are other people wearing white lab coats in the background.

Work and study in the sciences can be lonely.

As part of creating a culture of belonging, edtech tools can provide a collaborative and personalized learning experience, helping students feel more engaged and invested in their studies7. Building confidence and a sense of self-efficacy may help students feel more comfortable in the sciences, helping students pursue their academic and career goals with confidence.

A specialized scientific edtech platform, such as Lt, offers several important features to promote student success and belonging, including:

  • Instant feedback: boost confidence by quickly reinforcing knowledge to help students actively develop their understanding.
  • Group work: build a sense of community and collaboration, share diverse perspectives and skills, and foster social connections and support networks.
  • Multiple attempts: reduce the fear of failure and increase opportunities for mastery and success with the potential for greater learning and retention.
  • 24/7 access for revision: flexible and active learning increases opportunities for self-directed learning and reflection.
  • Comprehensive background material supports students to tackle new concepts.

In conclusion, a sense of belonging in school is essential for creating a positive learning environment. When students feel this, they are more likely to engage in their education, form meaningful relationships, and achieve academic success3.

It is important for educators to prioritize creating a sense of belonging for all students, regardless of their backgrounds or identities. By fostering a culture that facilitates the feeling of acceptance, schools can prepare students for success in the classroom and beyond.

A photo of a person using a laptop with some stylized icons floating in the air above the keyboard. There is an icon of a book with the word "E-LEARNING", an icon of an anatomical human heart, an icon of human lungs, an icon of a graduation cap, an icon of three books standing in a row as if on a shelf, and an icon of a glass flask containing liquid, among others.

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  1. Salesforce. "Connected Student Report." Third ed.
  2. Freeman, Tierra M., et al. “Sense of Belonging in College Freshmen at the Classroom and Campus Levels.” The Journal of Experimental Education, vol. 75, no. 3, 2007, pp. 203-220.
  3. Pedler, Megan Louise, et al. “A Sense of Belonging at University: Student Retention, Motivation and Enjoyment.” Journal of Further and Higher Education, vol. 46, no. 3, 2022, pp. 397-408.
  4. Goodenow, Carol. “Classroom Belonging among Early Adolescent Students: Relationships to Motivation and Achievement.” The Journal of Early Adolescence, vol. 13, no. 1, 1993, pp. 21-43.
  5. Edwards, Joshua D., et al. “Relationship between Course-Level Social Belonging (Sense of Belonging and Belonging Uncertainty) and Academic Performance in General Chemistry 1.” Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 99, no. 1, 2022, pp. 71-82.
  6. Gopalan, Maithreyi, and Shannon T. Brady. “College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A National Perspective - Maithreyi Gopalan, Shannon T. Brady, 2020.” Educational Researcher, vol. 49, no. 2,  2020, pp. 134-137.
  7. Tang, Clarice, et al. “Impact of Online Learning on Sense of Belonging among First Year Clinical Health Students during COVID-19: Student and Academic Perspectives.” BMC Medical Education, vol. 23, 2023.
  8. West, Joanna. "Belonging: why it is the next step on the equity, diversity and inclusion ladder." Times Higher Education Accessed 15 March 2023.

Related content

Neurodiversity: Supporting neurodiverse students »

Talking Teaching: Easing student anxiety with mindful study techniques »

Talking Teaching: Pedagogy of care and the role of faculty in student mental well-being »


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