2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

The Role of Engineering Doctoral Students' Future Goals on Perceived Task Usefulness

Presented at Graduate Education

This research paper explores how engineering doctoral students’ (EDS) experiences influence development and utilization of future time perspective (FTP) towards degree completion.

Engineering doctoral programs serve to generate new innovations that solve global problems. However, engineering graduate programs are plagued by high attrition rates and low minority enrollment. These problems limit creation of diverse role models and solutions in engineering. Despite these persistent problems, few studies have sought to understand how EDSs’ experiences foster development of affective traits, including FTP, that have been shown to positively influence undergraduate student development. To add to the limited body of work in graduate education, we address the following research question: How do future career goals influence EDSs’ perceived usefulness of graduate-level tasks?

FTP was used to understand how EDSs’ future oriented motivations influence actions toward degree completion. We examined constructs of perceived instrumentality (PI, usefulness of present tasks for future goals) and career connectedness (how connected the present and future are) in relation to student experiences. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was utilized to analyze EDSs’ FTPs from interviews and focus groups at two land grant institutions (n=11). IPA investigates “sense-making”, or interpretations, of lived experiences by becoming intimate with participants’ experiences. To uncover emergent themes, descriptive, linguistic, and conceptual notes were taken. For this work, one emergent theme, “future goals provide usefulness for present tasks”, is presented.

Mark (mining engineering, final year) defines a future for himself as a lecturer professor and knows “in the end [he] want[s] to be a professor”. Mark perceives usefulness in taking courses outside of his department to gain the skills to “relate to other fields, make quick adjustments, and make an impact”. He connects this skill to his future goal as a professor: “If you want to be a professor, you should just not be knowledgeable in your field.”

George (mechanical engineering, mid-program), contrasts Mark as he has not developed a defined future for himself beyond graduation: “I don't have a preference [for my future], as long as there are some experiments and there are some simulations.” George perceives the usefulness of solving engineering problems in courses, however, he does not extend his discussion beyond his current role of engineering student: “As an engineering student, yes, it's always interesting to solve engineering problems.”

Mark connects course-based tasks with his emerging identity as a professor which aligns with the literature’s definition of endogenous PI. George does not have an emerging identity and constrains problem solving in courses to his present identity as a student (i.e., exogenous PI). Previous work has shown that when tasks are perceived as endogenous, students are more likely to persist past barriers. Exogenous tasks are often seen as barriers that must be overcome quickly. Participants’ valuing of present tasks based on the future indicates a need to explicitly consider FTP in graduate student development. This work provides initial insight into EDSs’ need to develop future selves or perspectives that are integrated into all aspects of their graduate experiences.

  1. Mrs. Marissa A. Tsugawa-Nieves University of Nevada, Reno [biography]
  2. Blanca Miller University of Nevada, Reno [biography]
  3. Ms. Jessica Nicole Chestnut North Carolina State University
  4. Dr. Cheryl Cass North Carolina State University [biography]
  5. Dr. Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno [biography]
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