This project (#EHR-1535453 and 1535254) was developed with a goal of exploring engineering graduate students’ (EGSs’) identities, motivations, and experiences. Although there is a growing literature base and increasing awareness regarding the importance of identity and motivation for engineering students, much of it has focused on the undergraduate population. We plan to continue developing this knowledge and begin addressing issues unique to EGSs. Three phases were planned: an initial qualitative phase to explore existing constructs in a new population (complete), a quantitative phase to administer a nationally representative survey (complete), and a final qualitative phase to more deeply explore the quantitative findings (in progress). This paper will review the research findings that have emerged from all three phases - with special attention to the recent quantitative phase - as guided by our three central research questions:
1. What are the identity and motivation profiles of engineering doctoral students, which are based on previous academic and research experiences in STEM?
2. How does the STEM community influence identity formation and motivational goal setting processes of engineering doctoral students?
3. How do these processes related to identity formation and motivation influence engineering graduate student retention, productivity, and the pursuit of doctoral-level engineering careers?
The first phase of the project explored these research questions via in-depth interviews with EGSs. Through the use of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, we addressed aspects such as EGSs’ identity formation processes, the role of the past and future in EGS motivation, and the role EGSs’ communities and experiences played in their development as engineers. The results of this work informed phase two’s survey development, which concluded in June 2018. Phase two included the development and analysis of a pilot survey (administered to approximately 300 EGSs) and the administration of a comprehensive survey to a nationally representative population (final sample size is approximately 2300 EGSs). The final survey included Likert-type questions to explore constructs of identity and motivation; to explore graduate experiences, a variety of questions queried participants about the length of time in their program, their teaching and research experiences, and their peer and advisor relationships. A comprehensive demographics section was included so that could develop a more nuanced understanding of the EGS population and the identities they bring with them when enrolling in graduate programs.
In this paper, we will summarize survey results, presenting an overview of our quantitative findings. Additionally, progress and preliminary findings from the third and final phase of the project will be presented in brief. This third phase will use interviews with participants to explore quantitative findings in more depth, as well as continuing to develop hypotheses and further our knowledge of EGSs’ identities, motivations, and experiences. Ultimately, the goal of this project is to enhance our understanding of EGSs, a previously understudied population and to develop findings that can be used by graduate programs and advisors to improve EGSs’ experiences and outcomes.
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