June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Educational Research and Methods
This research paper explores how engineering doctoral students’ (EDS) experiences and identities influence their perceived fit in graduate programs and serve to inform their actions toward degree progress.
Few studies have explored the underlying causes of high attrition rates in engineering doctoral programs. This shortage of research has served to reify misconceptions and assumptions about graduate student abilities and what causes some students to leave engineering graduate programs. Research in non-STEM fields indicates that negative student experiences and limited opportunity to develop a disciplinary identity increase the likelihood of attrition. To begin addressing the paucity of research about EDSs’ experiences, we set out to answer the following research question: How do EDSs’ experiences influence the perceived fit of salient identities and subsequent actions toward degree progress?
Four students were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol developed from Identity-Based Motivation (IBM) constructs. IBM informs how students’ salient identities accessed in a given context dissuade or reinforce an individual’s identity, motivations, and perceptions of task difficulty. We employed interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to gain in-depth insight into students’ IBMs. IPA involves repeated listening and reading of interview transcripts to construct descriptive, linguistic, and interpretive summaries of the data. Themes are then generated for each participant, followed by identification of overarching themes across participants.
We discuss one theme that emerged across each participant, “perceived sense of autonomy”. Participants indicate that a perceived sense of autonomy (i.e., level of independence) informs whether the identity embodied during an experience, their salient identity, fits within a particular social environment. Evidence reflects that EDSs can range from having high autonomy (HA) to low autonomy (LA). Pursuit of tasks where students feel that they have HA align with greater feelings of enjoyment and identity congruence. LA limits students’ willingness to pursue tasks that are often used as measures for degree progress. Vince, a first year mining EDS, expressed HA when working with his graduate group, “I think it’s pretty fun... It’s pretty much like being in Neverland… We’re the Lost Boys and we just get to go off and have fun, play around and do experiments and stuff. I think it’s pretty cool.” However, when describing the required tasks that have presented difficulty for him, writing and presentations, his perception was one of LA, “I’m not a big fan of presentations... Even worse than writing is presentations… It’s like I’m an imposter.”
EDS autonomy is an indicator that serves to reinforce (i.e., the Lost Boys having fun) or dissuade (i.e., being an imposter presenting work) salient identities. The perceived fit of these salient identities serves to to inform subsequent actions toward degree progress. Our participants’ experiences indicate that elevating students’ autonomy can improve the perceived fit in graduate programs, the quality of educational experiences, and potentially serve to lower attrition rates in doctoral programs.
Miller, B., & Tsugawa, M. A., & Chestnut, J. N., & Perkins, H., & Cass, C., & Kirn, A. (2017, June), The Influence of Perceived Identity Fit on Engineering Doctoral Student Motivation and Performance Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28982
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