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Factors Influencing Career Choices of Underrepresented STEM Ph.D. Graduates

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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

Attracting Young Minds: Part I

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.703.1 - 22.703.9



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Paper Authors


Anne E. Donnelly University of Florida

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Anne Donnelly has served as the Director of the South East Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate Program since 1997. This program has directly assisted an interdisciplinary group of 49 STEM Ph.D. graduates in 15 departments. She has also been the Education and Outreach Director of the NSF Particle Engineering Research Center. She has conducted numerous program evaluations for NSF REU's, CCLI, and GK-12 projects. She is currently the Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research at the University of Florida.

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Factors Influencing Career Choices of Underrepresented STEM PhD GraduatesScience and Engineering faculties for the most part do not reflect the diversity of the studentbody they are engaged to teach. Underrepresented students at research extensive universitiesmay not encounter a minority faculty in their entire 4 year undergraduate experience. To addressthis lack of diversity, national programs have been developed that focus on preparingunderrepresented minorities for the professoriate. One of these efforts is the NSF Alliances forGraduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program, established in 1997 and to dateconsisting of 21 Alliances that represent over 80 institutions. At one AGEP institution, of 35SEM PhDs tracked, seven are currently working in government, eight in industry, eight inacademia, and 12 are in Post Doc positions. To explore the career choices of this group ofstudents, an explanatory case study was done with 29 alums who agreed to participate. Twentyof the participants were Black, while nine were Hispanic. There were 15 males and 14 females.This interdisciplinary group included 14 engineering scholars from material science andengineering, aerospace, biomedical, and mechanical engineering. Seven participants withdegrees in biological sciences were in the fields of microbiology, entomology, animal science,virology, and biochemistry. Six graduates in the physical sciences were from chemistry, soil andwater science, astronomy, and geology.Telephone and face-to-face interviews were conducted to explore the reasons that these students,who had been prepared for the professoriate, did not always pursue an academic career. Bothscaled items and open-ended responses were recorded. Interviews were transcribed andsubsequently analyzed. Factors that influenced the career choices of these students includedfamily commitments, student/personal debt, and concerns about the tenure track process. Thosegraduates that did complete a Post-Doctoral position or entered an Assistant Professorship trackstated that the chance to work with students, the ability to conduct independent research, and theopportunity to obtain positions in higher education leadership affected their decision to go intothe professoriate. Of note, two of the interviewees were in industry and government becausethey could not find a postdoc in their area of research interest. Salary and life style were rankedas the most important career influences for nonacademic participants. Fifty-six percent of thenonacademic participants stated that they wanted to eventually pursue a career in academia. Asmany engineers feel it is important to have industrial experience prior to teaching, a longer timeframe would be needed to determine the ultimate career placement of these individuals. Resultsfrom this study as well as an examination of the factors that influenced the graduates to initiallyobtain an advance degree will be presented.

Donnelly, A. E. (2011, June), Factors Influencing Career Choices of Underrepresented STEM Ph.D. Graduates Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17984

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