RoADS: Routes of Academic Development in STEM


Academic Self-concept, Social Belonging, Motivation, Social Networks, Longitudinal study, STEM, Academic Environment.


Entrance to university is a major transition for many young people, and can be both exciting and distressing. University education is set up differently from what students are used to in secondary education. This includes, for example, having less frequent interactions with teaching faculty, more self-monitoring of one’s learning process, studying with high achieving peers, and encountering more intellectually challenging learning content. STEM programs at ETH are especially known for their demanding nature. How students perceive this environment, react to it and develop in it is at the heart of the RoAds research project.


RoADS focuses on investigating the longitudinal development of students’ self-perception of competency, motivation, and social integration in different study programs at ETH. Such factors are considered very important for students’ well-being, but also for their academic development, achievements, future aspirations and choices (Marsh et al., 2018; Ryan & Deci, 2017; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). Despite its importance for this major life transition, longitudinal research on these factors among university students is lacking from empirical literature (Brahm, Jenert, & Wagner, 2017). The project addresses questions such as “Do students build up or lose confidence in their abilities over time during their bachelor years”, “How important are social networks of peers and friends for students’ competency beliefs?”, and “Which factors in the learning environment affect students’ sense of belonging within the study program?”.

We want to elaborate on experiences that may be unique to the study program, considering factors such as gender distribution, but also to find out what factors transcend departmental differences. Therefore, we plan to inquire with first year students across ETH departments, and follow them throughout their bachelor years. 

The RoADS project has the following goals:

  1. To track students’ competence beliefs, field value beliefs, and their sense of integration in the social-academic environment from entry to graduation of the bachelor.
  2. To investigate the longitudinal relations between these factors and their link with academic achievements.
  3. To investigate which factors in the learning environment affect change.

Study design

Across each year, participants fill out four comprehensive self-report questionnaires assessing the main variables on a ‘macro’ level (e.g., perceived competence to succeed in their studies, friendships in the cohort, intentions to go in their field). During the first year, 10 additional bi-weekly short questionnaires will be administered in order to capture students’ experiences more closely to their weekly routine. These will capture similar experiences on a ‘micro’ level (e.g., perceived success with their learning tasks in a given week), as well as behavior in learning situations, types of learning activities, affect, and perceived atmosphere. An overview of the study design during the first year is displayed in Figure 1.

Large surveys are administered twice during each semester, while short surveys are administered five times each semester between large survey administrations. In the spring semester, large surveys are administered at week one and halfway through the semester in week nine. For the autumn semester, large surveys are administered in week three, when students have received their spring semester grades, and in the last week.

Figure 1. Overview of yearly scheduled survey administrations, per semester.

State of the project

After receiving the approval from the ethics committee of ETH, RoADS started its first wave of data collection in autumn 2022, which continued throughout the spring semester. During this initial phase, we recruited over 300 students from a few study programs. This data is currently being analyzed. A larger wave of data collection is planned for autumn 2023. The study is currently funded by the different ETH chairs involved in the RoADS project.


As this project is in its formative stage no publications as of now are available.


Brahm, T., Jenert, T., & Wagner, D. (2017). The crucial first year: A longitudinal study of students’ motivational development at a Swiss business school. Higher Education,  73, 459-478. doi:10.1007/s10734-016-0095-8

Marsh, H. W., Pekrun, R., Muruyama, K., Arens, A. K., Parker, P. D., Guo, J., & Dicke, T. (2018). An integrated model of academic self-concept development: Academic self- concept, grades, test scores, and tracking over 6 years. Developmental Psychology, 54, 263-280. doi:10.1037/dev0000393

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 68-81. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1015

Siyu Jiang

Dr. Michal Berkowitz

Dr. Victoria Abou-Khalil

Prof. Dr. Manu Kapur

Prof. Dr. Elsbeth Stern

Prof. Dr. Christoph Stadtfeld

Research Assistants

Arne Hansen


Prof. Dr. Sarah Hofer

Former team members

Thomas Braas

Kieran Mepham

Dr. Cyril Picard