Asee peer logo

A Framework for Examining Engineering Doctoral Student Identity

Download Paper |


2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Graduate Studies Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Anne Marguerite McAlister University of Virginia

visit author page

Anne M. McAlister is a PhD student and graduate research assistant in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Special Education at the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on identity development in higher education, and how STEM graduate students balance and prioritize multiple identities. Before beginning doctoral work, she earned her BS in Chemical Engineering from The Ohio State University.

visit author page


Sarah Catherine Lilly University of Virginia

visit author page

Sarah Lilly is a PhD student in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at the University of Virginia. She holds a B.S. in Mathematics and English and an M.A.Ed. in Secondary Education from The College of William and Mary. Her research centers on STEM education, particularly using qualitative methods to understand the integration of math and science concepts with computational modeling and engineering design practices in technology-enhanced learning environments. Prior to beginning doctoral work, she taught secondary mathematics for four years as well as created and implemented an interdisciplinary, project-based mathematics, science, and principles-of-technology curriculum for freshmen and sophomore high school students in Albemarle County, Virginia.

visit author page


Jennifer L. Chiu University of Virginia

visit author page

Jennifer Chiu is an Associate Professor of STEM Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. She holds a B.S. in Engineering (Product Design) from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Science Education from UC Berkeley. She researches how to support K-12 students, teachers, and preservice teachers across science, engineering, mathematics, and computer science disciplines as well as how to support STEM in informal learning contexts. Before becoming a professor, she worked as an engineer at Hewlett Packard and taught high school mathematics and science in California and Oklahoma.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This paper presents a framework for the examination of engineering doctoral students’ identity that draws upon similar frameworks for undergraduate engineering identity (Godwin, 2016) and science identity (Carlone & Johnson; 2007). Engineering identity at the undergraduate level has been widely explored, but comparably few studies have explored engineering identity at the graduate level (Rodriguez et al., 2018). Prior research shows that engineering identity relates to persistence in engineering (Meyers et al., 2012; Pierrakos et al., 2009), and doctoral students who form stronger engineering identities in graduate school engage more positively in their program (Perkins et al., 2017). Additionally, identity development is fundamental to becoming part of the community of practice of graduate school and academia (e.g., Lave & Wenger, 1991); thus, it is important to examine the identity development of engineering graduate students. Specifically, this paper focuses on how roles taken on by doctoral students may relate to role identities that then interact to help develop an individual’s identity in graduate school. Engineer, researcher, student, and educator roles are common for engineering doctoral students (Kajfez & McNair, 2014) and so are specifically included. This framework uniquely considers engineering identity in parallel with these other role identities that doctoral students commonly enact in graduate school and other existing identities with which doctoral students may enter graduate school. These role identities do not develop independently, but may interact with each other over the course of graduate school. For example, a technical research project may bolster both a research identity and an engineering identity, whereas a heavy amount of coursework may bolster a student identity but not the development of a researcher identity. Other existing identities such as racial, ethnic, and gender identities may also affect the role identity development as well as how existing identities may influence overall doctoral student identity development; these influences are also articulated by the framework. Additionally, the framework considers the dimensions of performance/competence, recognition, and interest (Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Godwin, 2016) as pathways by which enacted roles may lead to stronger role identities. For each role identity, the impact of performance/competence is mediated through interest and recognition (Cribbs et al., 2015; Godwin et al., 2016). This work makes an important contribution to the limited exploration of engineering doctoral student identity. This sort of framework has not been created for engineering doctoral students. As doctoral programs are research-oriented and students enter with more experience in engineering than undergraduates, frameworks for undergraduate engineering identity cannot simply be generalized to the graduate student population. In addition, a framework for engineering graduate student identity development has the potential to increase understanding of doctoral students’ experiences, particularly those of historically marginalized graduate students, and how institutions may better support the identity development of all students. Furthering understanding of identity development in graduate school supports the development of a more representative engineering workforce through increased understanding of the identity experiences of students from historically marginalized groups in engineering. Thus, this work may have implications for persistence and representation in graduate school and academia.

McAlister, A. M., & Lilly, S. C., & Chiu, J. L. (2021, July), A Framework for Examining Engineering Doctoral Student Identity Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36580

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015