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Graduate Student Identity: A Balancing Act Between Roles

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Future Career and Professional Success for Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.652.1 - 24.652.16



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Paper Authors


Rachel Louis Kajfez Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Rachel Louis Kajfez is an assistant Professor of Practice in the Engineering Education Innovation Center and the department of civil, environmental, and geodetic engineering at Ohio State University. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in civil engineering from Ohio State and her Ph.D. in engineering education from Virginia Tech. Her research interests focus on the intersection between motivation and identity of undergraduate and graduate students, first-year engineering programs, mixed methods research, and innovative approaches to teaching. Currently, she teaches within the first-year engineering program at Ohio State while maintaining an active engineering education research program.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa D. McNair is an associate professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as assistant department head of graduate programs and co-director of the VT Engineering Communication Center (VTECC). She received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia. Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory, and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include interdisciplinary pedagogy for pervasive computing design; writing across the curriculum in statics courses; and a CAREER award to explore the use of e-portfolios to promote professional identity and reflective practice. Her teaching emphasizes the role of engineers as communicators and educators, the foundations and evolution of the engineering education discipline, assessment methods, and evaluating communication in engineering.

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Graduate Student Identity: A Balancing Act between RolesGraduate students are often required to balance a variety of roles while completing theireducation and preparing for their careers. This transitional process is a critical part ofconstructing their professional identities. However, it is not clear how well students are able tobalance multiple roles or how well graduate programs support multiple role development.Through this study, we hope to better understand graduate student role identity by examiningstudent perceptions in three fields—education, engineering, and engineering education—and tocontribute to research focused on improving efforts in preparing the future professoriate.Ultimately, our goal is to answer the following research question: How do graduate studentsconceive of and rank professional role identities, including those of researcher, teacher, and life-long learner, in terms of their current and future actual roles, expected roles, and desired roles?In order to address this question, a survey was developed, distributed, and analyzed to determinethe differences in teacher, researcher, and lifelong learner roles for each of the three fields above.Grounded in role identity theory, the survey elicits students’ perceptions of their current roles inacademia and the future roles they believe they will have after graduation. In total 2225potential participants from a large public research-focused university were contacted for thisstudy. After the initial data cleaning, 345 responses remained from both masters and PhD levelstudents for a response rate of 16%. We acknowledge the low response rate for this study, butwe believe it is still representative of our sample and reveals interesting findings related tograduate student views about roles they hold now and future roles.The results of this study provide an initial sketch of graduate student identity as constructed ofmultiple roles and often conflicting perceptions of actual, expected and desired roles. Our workindicates that engineering education students parallel education students in terms of teaching andengineering students in terms of research, but that in both education and engineering a balancebetween teaching and research is needed. Also we observed that there is a unique balance to theroles depending on field and that the roles do not align as well as one would anticipate whenalignment questions are asked directly. Overall, these results support the further development ofgraduate programs to provide proper alignment between current and future roles in terms ofstudents being teachers, researchers, and lifelong learners, specifically pointing to the need forimproved efforts in preparing future faculty.

Kajfez, R. L., & McNair, L. D. (2014, June), Graduate Student Identity: A Balancing Act Between Roles Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20543

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