The purpose of this project is to improve understanding of how graduate student experiences influence engineering identity formation and goal setting processes. Our mixed-methods study is guided by the following research questions:
RQ1: What are the identity and motivation profiles of engineering doctoral students, which are based on previous academic and research experiences in STEM?
RQ2: How does the STEM community influence identity formation and motivational goal setting processes of engineering doctoral students?
RQ3: How do these processes related to identity formation and motivation influence engineering graduate student retention, productivity, and pursuit of doctoral level engineering careers?
We have completed Phase 1 of our study which involved, a qualitative interpretative phenomonological analysis of engineering graduate students’ experiences, as discussed in focus groups and interviews. The goal of the analysis was to understand the lived engineering experiences of the students and the meaning found in these experiences within the context of the project’s focus on identity and motivation. The results of this work have also begun to address RQ3 through student discussion of experience within graduate programs, with faculty, and concerns of balancing multiple identities.
Phase 2, which is currently in progress, involves the development and national distribution of a survey to engineering graduate students, with a goal of collecting 5000 responses. Specifically, we developed novel Likert-type survey measures of graduate student future time perspectives, identities, identity based motivations, and experiences to begin establishing items that reflect graduate student experiences. Pilot surveys were distributed to students at two institutions, and we conducted exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to assist with survey validation as well as the item cutting process. The final survey will be distributed nationally from November 2017 through March 2018. The results of this and future work will outline the institutional features that may be forcing qualified students to the make the difficult decision to leave their graduate programs. Our results point to the need for exploration of student relationships with multiple institutional agents including but not limited to their advisors, classmates, and lab mates.
Our work with graduate students’ identities, as engineers, students, and members of their peer and family groups, has expanded the conversation about STEM identities by stepping outside of the traditional undergraduate classroom where these discussions are typically situated. By focusing on a population that is studying advanced STEM concepts, and is in the process of crafting and enacting sophisticated and multifaceted identities, we can learn more about how engineering identities develop when students are active, efficacious, and engaged, areas which traditional engineering classrooms are generally seeking to improve. At the same time, we can observe students as they begin negotiating their personal and professional responsibilities, and thus can begin to determine when, where, and why students and early-career professionals struggle. By better understanding engineering graduate student development we can explore ways to provide targeted and efficient support to graduate students and new professionals.
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