Open Access Open Badges Research article

Individual characteristics and student’s engagement in scientific research: a cross-sectional study

Ana Salgueira1*, Patrício Costa1, Mónica Gonçalves1, Eunice Magalhães12 and Manuel João Costa1

Author Affiliations

1 Life and Health Sciences Research Institute (ICVS), School of Health Sciences, University of Minho, Campus e Gualtar, 4710-057, Braga, Portugal

2 Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Cis-UL, Avenida das Forças Armadas, 1649-026, Lisbon, Portugal

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BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:95  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-95

Published: 15 October 2012



In light of the increasing recognition of the importance of physician scientists, and given the association between undergraduate research experiences with future scientific activity, it is important to identify and understand variables related to undergraduate students’ decision to engage in scientific research activities. The present study assessed the influence of individual characteristics, including personality traits and socio-demographic characteristics, on voluntary engagement in scientific research of undergraduate medical students.


For this study, all undergraduate students and alumni of the School of Health Sciences in Minho, Portugal were invited to participate in a survey about voluntary engagement in scientific research activities. Data were available on socio-demographic, personality and university admission variables, as part of an ongoing longitudinal study. A regression model was used to compare (1) engaged with (2) not engaged students. A classification and regression tree model was used to compare students engaged in (3) elective curricular research (4) and extra-curricular research.


A total of 466 students (88%) answered the survey. A complete set of data was available for 435 students (83%).

Higher scores in admission grade point average and the personality dimensions of “openness to experience” and “conscientiousness” increased chances of engagement. Higher “extraversion” scores had the opposite effect. Male undergraduate students were two times more likely than females to engage in curricular elective scientific research and were also more likely to engage in extra-curricular research activities.


This study demonstrated that student’ grade point average and individual characteristics, like gender, openness and consciousness have a unique and statistically significant contribution to students’ involvement in undergraduate scientific research activities.