June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.872.1 - 14.872.9
Measuring the Impact of Undergraduate Research Programs on Engineering Students’ Attitudes toward Graduate Studies Abstract
Attitudes toward graduate studies are an often overlooked, but potentially important factor in undergraduate engineering students’ decisions of whether or not to pursue graduate studies in engineering. Graduate work, especially the Ph.D., requires extensive research, a skill not often emphasized in undergraduate engineering programs. A survey was developed to measure engineering students’ attitudes toward graduate studies and examine the reasons students choose to not attend graduate school. The psychometric properties of the survey have been examined and are published elsewhere. The survey has been used to measure the effect(s) undergraduate research programs have on engineering students’ attitudes toward graduate studies. Students who participated in the research programs showed increased attitudes from the beginning to the end of their programs and had significantly higher attitudes toward graduate studies than a group of students who did not participate in the programs. Research opportunities for undergraduates have expanded over the past several years with the initiation of federally funded programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program. During each of the last three years, New Jersey Institute of Technology has hosted two separate REUs as well as a McNair Program. Data across all three years have been combined to further examine changes in students’ attitudes toward graduate studies after participating in one of the programs and to begin investigating possible differences between the students who attended the REU programs and the students who attended the McNair program. Students in the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program showed significantly higher attitudes toward graduate studies, were more positive about research and appeared more likely to pursue careers in academia.
Factors that influence students’ decision to attend college, how they choose which college to attend, and the career paths they choose are fairly well known. However, less is known about why students choose to enroll in graduate programs and the level of the degree they pursue. The issues appear to be more complex. For example, deciding to pursue a graduate degree is a major commitment of time and money. Pursuing an undergraduate degree is usually done within a relatively specific timeframe, whereas there are several unknowns in pursuit of a graduate degree, especially the Ph.D., to the point where it can almost be considered an “endurance contest.” Graduate work, especially the Ph.D., requires intense work and research -- a much more demanding course load than a typical undergraduate program1, or even a Masters program, which tends to deter many students.
Other factors that influence enrollments in graduate programs, particularly engineering programs include the lack of growth in undergraduate engineering enrollment and graduation rates that limit the pool of eligible applicants to graduate engineering programs2. Studies have been reported on retention and attrition of students in undergraduate programs3. Among the many factors related to why students decide to pursue (or not to pursue) careers in engineering is their lack of knowledge regarding engineers and what they actually do. One approach to
Hirsch, L., & Carpinelli, J., & Kimmel, H., & Perna, A., & Narh, K. (2009, June), Measuring The Impact Of Undergraduate Research Programs On Engineering Students' Attitudes Toward Graduate Studies Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/5199
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