Failure is hard-wired into the scientific method and yet teaching students to productively engage with failure is not foundational in most biology curricula. To train successful scientists, it is imperative that we teach undergraduate science students to be less fearful of failure and to instead positively accept it as a productive part of the scientific process. In this article, we focus on student perceptions of the stigma of failure and their associated concerns to explore how failure could be better supported within and beyond a university context. Through a survey of first-year biology students, we found that societal and familial pressures to succeed were the greatest contributing factors to students’ fear of failure. In student suggestions on how to reduce the stigma of failure within and beyond the university context, the most common theme identified across both contexts was for increased discussion and open communication about experiences of failure. Importantly, student comments in this study bring attention to the role of factors beyond the classroom in shaping student experiences of failure within their biology courses.

Suggested Citation

Nunes, K., Du, S., Philip, R., Mourad, M.M., Mansoor, Z., Laliberté, N. and Rawle, F. (2022), Science students’ perspectives on how to decrease the stigma of failure. FEBS Open Bio, 12: 24-37. https://doi.org/10.1002/2211-5463.13345


Krystal Nunes
Sherry Du
Riya Philip
Mohammed Majd Mourad
Zainab Mansoor
Nicole Laliberté
Fiona Rawle


FEBS Open Bio
Vol. 12, Iss. 1


Failure in STEM, productive failure, resilience, stigma of failure, student engagement

Publication Date

6 December 2021

View Article