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Epistemological Development of Chinese Engineering Doctoral Students in the U.S. Institutions: A Comparison of Multiple Measurement Methods

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

General Topics in Graduate Education

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.580.1 - 25.580.10



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Paper Authors


Jiabin Zhu Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Jiabin Zhu is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She obtained a B.S. in physics from East China Normal University, a M.S. in optics from Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and a second M.S. in biomedical engineering from Purdue University. Her primary research interests relate to the cognitive development of engineering graduate students, global engineering, professional development, and mentoring of engineering graduate students. She is a student member of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

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Monica Farmer Cox Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Cognitive Developmental Profiles of Chinese Engineering Doctoral Students in the U.S. Institutions: An Application of Perry’s ModelDoctoral education system in the U.S. has been widely considered as the best of the world. It hasexperienced a large increase of foreign talents, evidenced by the large number of internationaldoctoral students each year, especially in the science and engineering field. Specifically,according to National Science Foundation’s 2009 Earned Doctorate Survey, among science andengineering Ph.D. recipients, 37% of them are temporary visa holders. Among the foreigncountries/economies, China ranks top in the number of doctorate recipients from U.S. institutionsin science and engineering fields (NSF, 2009). Between 1999 and 2009, 32,973 studentsgraduated with science or engineering doctorate degrees were from China.Despite the prominent representation of Chinese students among science and engineeringdoctoral students in U.S. institutions, these Chinese scientists and engineers are understudiedcompared to their U.S.-born peers and other traditionally underrepresented groups in science andengineering. Among current qualitative and quantitative researches on foreign-born scholarsincluding China, major efforts are spent primarily on their job satisfaction, or adjustment issues,such as the sense of isolation, the issue of balancing family life and career, lack of collegiality,language barriers, etc. (Seagren and Wang, 1994; Skachkova, 2007; Thomas and Johnson, 2004).These studies provided an overview of these foreign-born scholars’ academic working status andsocial adjustment, which are related more to the feeling or affective domains. However,considering the fundamental goal and the significant impact of higher education played in theknowledge aspect, i.e. cognitive domain and considering the direct impact of cognitive domainon their productivity and their development of professional skill sets, it is necessary tounderstand their cognitive developmental status to obtain a full picture about the livedexperiences these Chinese engineering doctoral students in US institutions.In this paper, researchers utilized Perry’s cognitive development theory (1970) as a theoreticalframework to understand the cognitive developmental profiles of Chinese Engineering doctoralstudents in U.S. institution. Perry’s theory describes a movement from a dualistic to aconstructive view in the intellectual and ethical development of college students (Perry, 1970).Perry’s theory and other later extensions based on this similar developmental theme have beenadopted by multiple researchers in engineering education field to understand the cognitivedevelopment of engineering students (Felder, 2004). Using the Perry’s theory (1970) and aquantitative instrument that is developed based on Perry’s theory, this paper sets out to map thecognitive development profiles of both current Chinese doctoral students in U.S. institutionsamong nearly 100 Chinese engineering graduate students in a large U.S. Midwest researchuniversity. The initial quantitative profile provides first-hand understanding about the cognitivedevelopmental profiles of Chinese graduate students and allows further qualitative investigationregarding the factors and experiences that are related with students’ cognitive developments.References:Felder, R., Brent, R. (2004). The Intellectual Development of Science and Engineering StudentsPart 1. Models and Challenges, Journal of Engineering Education, 93 (4), 269–277National Science Foundation (2009). Survey of Earned Doctorates, Retrieved Oct. 5 2011, from, W.G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: AScheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Seagren, A. T., and Wang, H. (1994). Marginal men on an American campus: A case of Chinesefaculty. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of HigherEducation, Tucson, Arizona.Skachkova, P. (2007). Academic careers of immigrant women professors in the U.S. HigherEducation, 53(6), 697–738.Thomas, J. M., and Johnson, B. J. (2004). Perspectives of international faculty members: Theirexperiences and stories. Education and Society, 22(3), 47–64.

Zhu, J., & Cox, M. F. (2012, June), Epistemological Development of Chinese Engineering Doctoral Students in the U.S. Institutions: A Comparison of Multiple Measurement Methods Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21337

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