Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
In conversations about the future of engineering, supporting multiple pathways through engineering education, including at the graduate level, is a commonly cited priority. Similarly, increasing the diversity of experiences and perspectives represented in the engineering population is critical for successfully and thoughtfully addressing the complex problems typical of contemporary engineering work. Engineering returners, those students who work for five or more years after completing their undergraduate engineering degree before pursuing a PhD, represent an often-overlooked group of students who have a distinct educational trajectory and rich past experiences they bring to their PhD work. Returners' substantial engineering work experiences help direct their exploration of critical engineering research questions, inform their research process, and may position them well to help find innovative solutions to present and future engineering problems. However, our team's prior work suggests returners also report substantial financial, academic, and work/life balance challenges associated with their transition from an engineering career back to a student role. Such challenges may affect engineering professionals’ decisions to return for a PhD or persist in their degree programs. In our current project, we seek to gain a greater understanding of how engineering workplaces that may employ prospective or current returners might shape returners' experiences and decision making. Specifically, we ask: "What types of workplace practices, policies, and attitudes related to employees pursuing advanced graduate study exist at different companies that employ engineers? How might these shape employees' decisions to return to school for a PhD?"
Our findings for this study come from interviews with 6 mid-career industry and government engineering professionals who have knowledge about company policies and views related to returners or potential returners. Interviews pointed to a number of attitudes and perspectives held by employees and managers within participants’ industry and government engineering organizations that may affect employees’ interest in or ability to pursue doctoral study in engineering. Participants provided conflicting reports of their perceptions of the extent to which a doctorate was seen as valuable in engineering. Some participants noted beliefs held by some in their workplace that a PhD was too narrowly focused or not relevant to applied engineering work, while others felt that having a PhD was generally seen as an asset within their organization. While some described company policies that likely discouraged employees from pursuing a PhD, others detailed a number of company policies aimed at supporting employees returning for a PhD. These programs and policies included tuition assistance, flexible work hours to enable employees to attend courses, and programs that allowed employees to take several years off to pursue education and return to the company after completing their studies. These and other findings will be explored in detail in our full paper. Better understanding particular workplace supports and barriers to returning for a PhD will, in conjunction with findings from our previous surveys of and interviews with returning students, make more targeted recommendations about ways universities can better recruit and support students who wish to pursue a PhD after extensive work experience.
Mosyjowski, E., & Daly, S. R., & Peters, D. L. (2018, June), Engineering Industry Perspectives and Policies Related to Employees’ Pursuit of Engineering Doctoral Training Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30412
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