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Confidence of Graduate Students in Engineering Masters’ Programs: A Comparison of Returners and Direct-Pathway Students

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Diane L. Peters Kettering University

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Dr. Peters is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University.

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Elizabeth Gross Sam Houston State University Orcid 16x16

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Elizabeth A. Gross MLIS, PhD is currently assistant professor of Library Science and Technology at Sam Houston State University and engineering education researcher. She achieved her doctoral degree in learning design and technology from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

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Confidence is a critical factor in the success of graduate students; those who are not confident of their ability to succeed will have greater difficulties in persisting and graduating with the degree that they seek. Therefore, cultivating confidence is an important part of equipping graduate students for success, and the question of where confidence comes from is an important one.

In this study, 300 graduate students were surveyed, including both returners (students with a gap of at least five years between completing their undergraduate education and starting graduate study) and direct pathway students (students with a gap less than five years, if any). Several survey questions focused on the participants’ confidence in their own abilities to succeed in graduate school and complete their degrees. Students’ self-reported levels of confidence were compared to a variety of different metrics, including their undergraduate and graduate GPA, GRE scores, and the level of supportiveness they reported experiencing from different people in their lives. It was found that none of these metrics correlated to students’ confidence.

Out of the survey population, 41 students were also interviewed, split approximately evenly between returners and direct pathway students, and the interview data was also analyzed to look at students’ confidence. While none of the questions in the interview protocol specifically asked about confidence, the topic did arise naturally in the course of the interview conversations. Students reported that specific experiences in either their education or work experience led to their level of confidence. We conclude, therefore, that confidence was constructed based on internal perceptions of experiences, and not on external validation of a student’s abilities or skills.

Peters, D. L., & Gross, E. (2021, July), Confidence of Graduate Students in Engineering Masters’ Programs: A Comparison of Returners and Direct-Pathway Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36835

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