The aim of this research paper is to develop a multi-item survey instrument to assess and understand engineering graduate students’ identity. Individuals can develop multiple identities in the academic domain, and we anticipate that graduate students develop both an engineering identity and a research identity in their engineering graduate programs. Engineering identity development has mainly been investigated with undergraduate engineering students. The literature on graduate students’ engineering identity development is relatively sparse, and the phenomenon has been investigated mostly using qualitative studies. Furthermore, research identity development has been studied with non-engineering doctoral students, but very few researchers have investigated engineering graduate students’ research identity, even though engineering graduate students engage in research and develop research proficiency during their graduate studies. In this quantitative study, we incorporate findings from previous qualitative studies of engineering identity and researcher identity to 1) assess engineering identity and investigate its relationships with key factors affecting engineering identity development and 2) investigate researcher identity development among other graduate programs to investigate relationships between engineering graduate students’ research identity and key factors affecting its development.
We developed multi-item scales to measure engineering identity and research identity. Several items were borrowed and modified from undergraduate engineering identity studies and research identity studies in different disciplines. In addition, our survey included items that we generated to measure key factors that prior research suggests may affect these identities, namely engineering and research competencies, interest, and recognition. The survey was completed online by 115 mechanical engineering graduate students from a large public research university. Exploratory factor analysis indicated that the items intended to measure engineering and research identities loaded onto their respective factors, and that the items created to measure engineering and research competencies, interest, and recognition loaded onto six factors: Engineering Competence, Engineering Interest, Research Competence, Research Interest, Math/Science Competence, and Interpersonal Skill Competence. Pearson correlation analysis indicated that engineering identity and research identity were significantly correlated with all independent variables except for Interpersonal Skill Competence. In addition, students’ intention to complete their program is significantly correlated with Engineering Identity, Engineering Interest, Research Interest, and Math/Science Competence.
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