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Engineering Practitioners in Ph.D. programs: Who Are They and Why Do They Return?

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Graduate Recruitment & Professional Development

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.637.1 - 26.637.25



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Paper Authors


Erika Mosyjowski University of Michigan

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Erika Mosyjowski is a PhD student in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. She also earned a Master's in Higher Education at Michigan and a Bachelor's in Psychology and Sociology from Case Western Reserve University. Before pursuing a PhD, Erika had a dual appointment in UM's College of Engineering working in student affairs and as a research associate. While grounded in the field of higher education, her research interests include engineering education, particularly as related to innovation, professional identity development, and supporting the recruitment and persistence of underrepresented students within engineering.

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Shanna R. Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Adam Blake Baker University of Michigan


Diane L Peters Kettering University

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

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Steve J. Skerlos University of Michigan

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Engineering practitioners in PhD programs: Who are they and why do they return?Future economic development and security in our knowledge-driven global community reliesupon engineers in industry, academia, and government who have the technical skill, vision, andexpertise to identify and solve real-world problems and connect scientific knowledge and theoryto technological advances. These skills are learned and developed through both advancedengineering training and real-world professional experiences and consist of a strong theoreticalbackground as well as rigorous research and problem solving skills. Engineering students whohave spent time working as engineering practitioners prior to pursuing a PhD, a group we refer toas returners, can bring this combination of experiences and expertise to their work. Research andtheory propose that the convergence of ideas from multiple contexts can be a source ofinnovation, suggesting returners’ blend of both applied and research-based engineering traininggives them a unique perspective on need-finding and solution generation.As very little is known about returning PhD students in engineering, we designed a multi-yearthree-phase study to learn more about these students’ experiences and perspectives and howthose experiences influence their academic work. The Graduate Student Experiences andMotivations Survey (GSEMS) is the first of three project phases: a national survey of returnersand direct pathway students (students who begin a PhD shortly after completing theirundergraduate work), interviews with students about the formulation of their research work, andconversations with stakeholders in academia, government, and industry about policies andperspectives related to returners. Our goal for the GSEMS was to characterize the population ofPhD-level returners in engineering and develop a better understanding of their experiences andmotivations as compared to direct-pathway students. This paper’s focus on characterizingengineering returners is an important first step in supporting the recruitment and retention ofthese students. Findings in this paper include information about returners’ backgrounds, pasteducation and work experience, their motivations for returning, what and who they consult intheir decision to return and for support, their funding during their PhD, information about theirprogression towards a degree, how they allocate their time, what they feel they’ve gained fromthe experience, and their goals upon completing a degree. We aim to use findings from our studyto inform efforts to recruit graduate returners, support these students throughout their academiccareers, and better utilize their unique skills and perspectives within both academia and beyond.

Mosyjowski, E., & Daly, S. R., & Baker, A. B., & Peters, D. L., & Skerlos, S. J. (2015, June), Engineering Practitioners in Ph.D. programs: Who Are They and Why Do They Return? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23975

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