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Negotiating The Path To The Professoriate: A Study Of Faculty Perspectives In Mechanical Engineering

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

The Academic Environment

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.924.1 - 13.924.16



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Paper Authors

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Monica Young Syracuse University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Negotiating the Path to the Professoriate: A Study of Faculty Perspectives in Mechanical Engineering

Abstract This qualitative study investigated the factors that support or impede women’s interest and persistence in the field of mechanical engineering and how these experiences influence their decision to complete a doctoral program and advance on to a career in academia. This study examined key variables along the STEM continuum that contribute to the gender gap among engineering faculty members through comparative case studies of female and male mechanical engineering professors from eight universities across the United States. This study also compared the perceptions of male and female engineering professors concerning the departmental and institutional climate within their respective university engineering programs. The intent was to determine the commonalities and differences that exist within and between these two groups to gain additional insight into the problem of underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. The data suggest that male and female faculty members agree that early and sustained mentoring is key in recruiting and retaining female students in engineering. They also assent that the tenure process is essentially the same for all faculty members, but many male faculty members neglected to consider the unique challenges associated with childbirth and extension of the tenure clock that many women face. Female faculty members expressed greater difficulty establishing research collaborations, but all faculty members realized the potential for a more positive departmental climate as more female faculty members are hired. Introduction The global economy in the 21st century requires the United States to invest significantly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to ensure our prominence and leadership in the advancement of scientific and technological knowledge. For decades, excellence in building and sustaining institutions of higher education that attract science and engineering talent from all over the world has defined this nation. When it comes to supporting the limitless potential of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities in STEM research and education, however, the United States has fallen short – even while developing this potential would significantly expand our overall national competitiveness and prosperity1. Engineering as a field has suffered most seriously from the shortage of women entering and advancing through the STEM education pipeline. The National Science Board in its Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report found that, although the number of women earning doctoral degrees in engineering fields increased between 1991-2003, women still lag far behind men, comprising just 17% of the total doctoral degrees awarded2. At earlier levels of education, these numbers are comparable. The attrition of women as compared to men on the path to the Ph.D. results in the ever-widening gap in numbers of women achieving advanced academic positions in STEM disciplines causing an overall ripple effect on future generations3. It is imperative that researchers inquire into what contributes to the under-representation of women in STEM – specifically, those factors that encourage or discourage interest and persistence in pursuing advanced degrees and careers in science and particularly in engineering4. Some researchers argue that without women in visible leadership roles in engineering academia there is no incentive for young women to enter the field5,6. Others believe that the climate within institutions and engineering departments strongly impedes the success of female faculty members and students7,8,9,10. Many contend that mentoring plays a critical role in all stages of academia and the lack of female mentors or role models results in a smaller number of women entering graduate school5,11,12,13,14. If STEM professionals are to be successful in creating more

Young, M., & Tillotson, J. (2008, June), Negotiating The Path To The Professoriate: A Study Of Faculty Perspectives In Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4085

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