This research paper describes the development of a critical incident-centered analysis methodology based on Schlossberg’s Transition Theory to explore transitions experienced by engineering education researchers as they begin new faculty positions. Understanding the transition experiences of scholars aiming to impact change within engineering education is important for identifying approaches to support the sustained success of these scholars at their institutions and within engineering education more broadly. To date, efforts to better prepare future faculty for academic roles have primarily focused on preparing them to be independent researchers, to teach undergraduate courses, and to support their ability to advance their career. Research of early career faculty is similarly limited in scope, focusing mostly on new faculty at research-exclusive universities or on faculty member’s teaching and research practices. To address this gap in the literature, our research team is examining the role of institutional context on the agency of early career engineering education faculty as it relates to facilitating change.
As part of this larger project, the focus of this paper is on the integration of critical incident techniques and Schlossberg’s Transition Theory to create “incident timelines” that explore the transition of early career engineering education researchers into new faculty positions. Our paper will illustrate how this integration provided an effective methodology to: 1) explore a diverse set of transitions into faculty positions, 2) identify critical events that impact these transitions, 3) isolate strategies that supported the faculty members in different aspects of their transitions, and 4) examine connections between events and strategies over time and across faculty members’ transitions. Transition Theory provides a lens to explore how individuals identify and adapt based on transitions in their lives. An individual’s transition, according to Schlossberg, tends to include three phases: moving in, moving through, and moving out. Over the course of those phases, the individual’s experiences are influenced by the context of the transition, the characteristics of the individual such as their motivations and beliefs, the extent to which they have support, and the strategies they utilize. Given the complexity of a transition into a faculty position, it was necessary to determine the extent to which particular events and the relationship between events impacted a new faculty member’s experience. To accomplish this, we integrated a critical incident analysis to specifically investigate individual events that were considered significant to the overall transition leading to the development of an incident timeline.
We applied our approach to monthly reflections of six new engineering faculty members from diverse institutional contexts who identify as engineering education researchers. The monthly reflections asked each participant to provide their impressions of the faculty role, in what ways they felt like a faculty member, and in what ways they did not. Through an iterative data analysis process, we developed initial incident timelines for each participant’s transition. Follow-up interviews with the participants allowed us to explore each event in more detail and provided an opportunity for reflection-on-action by the participant. These incidents were then further explored to distinguish strategies used and support received. Finally, we examined connections between events and strategies over time to identify overarching themes common to these types of faculty transitions. In this methods paper, we will demonstrate the usefulness of this variation of the critical incident approach for exploring complex professional transitions by highlighting the details of our incident timeline analysis.
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