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Doctoral Students as Course Instructors: Three Engineering Teaching Assistants’ Socialization Experiences

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Graduate Student Experience

Tagged Divisions

Graduate Studies and Student

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.509.1 - 22.509.15



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Paper Authors


Irene B. Mena Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Irene B. Mena has a B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education. Her research interests include K-12 engineering education, first-year engineering, and graduate student professional development.

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi Diefes-Dux is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member in Purdue’s First-Year Engineering Program, the gateway for all first-year students entering the College of Engineering. She is currently the Director of Teacher Professional Development for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE). Her research focuses on developing, implementing and assessing authentic mathematical modeling problems; this has included teaching assistant professional development.

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Brenda Capobianco Purdue University

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Brenda M. Capobianco is Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and School of Engineering Education (courtesy) at Purdue University. She holds a B.S. in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, M.S. in science education from Connecticut Central State University, and Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She teaches elementary science methods and graduate courses in teacher action research and gender and culture in science education. Her research interests include girls’ participation in science and engineering; teacher’s engagement in action research; and science teachers’ integration of the engineering design process to improve science learning.

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Doctoral students as course instructors: Three engineering teaching assistants’ socialization experiencesThe purpose of this study was to explore and understand the types of socialization experiencesthat result from engineering graduate teaching assistants’ (TAs) roles as course instructors.Socialization refers to an individual’s process of becoming a part of a group. In the context ofdoctoral education, socialization can be a complex area to study, largely because there are manyroles and groups for which graduate students can be socialized. Adding to the complexity is thatall disciplines and all graduate programs are different, and socialization processes will mainlydepend on each department’s culture and each profession’s values. As such, it is necessary toconsider these differences in order to understand what graduate students need to know and whatvalues they are expected to adopt; that is, the context of the discipline and graduate programneeds to be considered when looking at socialization.Studies have looked at socialization experiences in the humanities and sciences, but engineeringseems to be a neglected field. Using situated learning, more specifically the communities ofpractice (CoP) literature, as the theoretical framework, this study looked at how three doctoralengineering TAs, with experience as course instructors, become members of the CoP that isacademia. This study was guided by the following research questions: 1) What socializationexperiences do doctoral engineering TAs report going through as a result of working as courseinstructors? 2) What recommendations to improve the TA experience emerge from this study?Data were collected in the form of interviews (individual and focus group, with participants fromtwo schools of engineering at a Midwestern university), informal observations, and supportingdocuments. Using grounded theory and content analysis, these multiple data sources wereanalyzed and triangulated to find recurring themes. Results indicated several categories ofsocialization experiences, as characterized by the three TAs. These categories included thefollowing: 1) participation in TA training of different kinds; 2) interactions with different groupsof individuals; 3) the undertaking of various types of TA responsibilities; 4) the balancing ofteaching and research; and 5) the use and development of certain skills. Implications from thestudy suggest the need for a progressive TA model, in which TAs are given more responsibilitiesduring specific stages of their program, culminating with the opportunity to be course instructors.

Mena, I. B., & Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Capobianco, B. (2011, June), Doctoral Students as Course Instructors: Three Engineering Teaching Assistants’ Socialization Experiences Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17790

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