2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)
New Orleans, Louisiana
February 20, 2022
February 20, 2022
July 20, 2022
Technical Session 4 - Paper 1: Valuable Professional Learning and Development Activities for Black STEM Postdoctoral Scholars
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions
This instrumental case study (Stake, 1995) explores the ways in which Black science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) postdoctoral scholars describe the valuable professional learning and development activities they engaged in that supported their academic career advancement. A postdoctoral appointment in STEM is a critical milestone to entering the professoriate because it affords doctoral recipients with advanced preparation to assume the research, teaching, and service responsibilities of a tenure-track faculty member (Andalib et al., 2018). Yet, postdoctoral scholars typically require additional career advancement support in order to be competitive in the tenure-track job market and successfully transition into the professoriate. While a scant body of literature exists on the professional learning and development activities of postdoctoral scholars in general, and postdoctoral scholars of color specifically, this knowledge base may be key to broadening participation efforts in the STEM professoriate. Presently, less than 10% of STEM postdoctoral scholars and STEM faculty identify as racial/ethnic minorities (Bennett et al., 2020; Yadav et al., 2020) despite comprising nearly 40% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021). The research question that guides this study is: What professional learning and development activities do Black STEM postdoctoral scholars engage in to support their career advancement?
The professional learning and development model posited by Nowell et al. (2018) was used as the conceptual framework for this instrumental case study (Stake, 1995) of nine Black STEM postdoctoral scholars. Nowell et al. noted professional development and learning “includes a vast range of informal or formal activities and interactions, as well as contextual learning and reflective actions that may increase knowledge, skills, abilities, and growth, and improves performance in present or future roles” (p. 2). Interview participants were queried on the types of professional development activities they engaged in during their postdoctoral appointment and the value they attributed to such activities to their academic career advancement. The model served as a deductive lens for data analysis and was foundational to the interpretations and implications of the study.
The interview data were analyzed using Stake’s (1995) four-step deductive data analysis process of direct interpretation, categorical aggregation, pattern recognition, and naturalistic generalizations. Three major themes emerged relative to the professional learning and development activities in which Black STEM postdoctoral scholars engaged in that supported their academic career advancement: (1) Technical, research-orientated activities that bolstered their scientific skills were of the greatest value; (2) Exposure to various career options in STEM aided in their career decision-making process; and (3) Community development activities that diminished feelings of isolation were critical to STEM career trajectories but were few and far between. Multiple verification strategies were employed to ensure trustworthiness by attending to issues of credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability (Lincoln and Guba, 1985).
These findings contribute to our understanding of the professional learning and development activities that supported Black STEM postdoctoral scholars to enter the professoriate ranks. Replication activities must focus on enhancing postdoctoral scholar scientific and technical skills which Yadav et al. (2020) also found was a professional growth desire for racially/ethnically diverse STEM postdoctoral scholars. Additionally, greater attention must be directed to career choices and decision-making during postdoctoral appointments as also uncovered by Van Benthem et al. (2020). The fact that feelings of isolation permeated the postdoctoral scholar experience must be addressed, as this has also been noted by other researchers (Chakraverty, 2020; Hudson et al., 2018; Van Benthem et al., 2020; Yadav et al., 2020). If those in academia truly desire to diversify the professoriate ranks, professional learning and development activities must be institutionalized within postdoctoral appointment contracts to ensure Black STEM postdoctoral scholars are receiving the kind of professional support that promotes their transition into STEM faculty ranks. Greater consideration to improving the postdoctoral experience through such activities may bolster STEM broadening participation efforts and aid in the diversification of the STEM professoriate. This research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP).
Andalib, M. A., Ghaffarzadegan, N., and Larson, R. C. (2018). The postdoc queue: A labour force in waiting. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 35(6), 327–348.
Bennett, J. C., Lattuca, L., Redd, K., and York, T. (2020). Strengthening pathways to faculty careers in STEM: Recommendations for systemic change to support underrepresented groups. Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. https://www.aplu.org/library/strengthening-pathways-to-faculty-careers-in-stem- recommendations-for-systemic-change-to-support-underrepresented-groups/file
Chakraverty, D. (2020). The imposter phenomenon among black doctoral and postdoctoral scholars in STEM. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 15, 433-460.
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Lincoln, Y. S., and Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Sage Publications.
Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Berenson, C., Kenny, N., and Hayden, K. A. (2018). Professional learning and development of postdoctoral scholars: A systematic review of the literature. Education Research International, 2018, Article 5950739.
Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. Sage Publications.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2021). Quick facts, 2019. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219
Van Benthem, K., Mohamad, N. A., Corkery, C. T., Inoue, J., & Jadavji, N. M. (2020). The changing postdoc and key predictors of satisfaction with professional training. Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, 11(1), 123–142.
Yadav, A., Seals, C. D., Soto Sullivan, C. M., Lachney, M., Clark, Q., Dixon, K. G., and Smith, M. J. T. (2020). The forgotten scholar: Underrepresented minority postdoc experiences in STEM fields. Educational Studies, 56(2), 160–185.
Mendez, S. L., & Conley, V. M., & Phillips, C. M. L., & McCoy, T. M., & Haynes, C. L., & Watson, K. J., & Cooksey, S. E., & Starkey, K. E. (2022, February), Valuable Professional Learning and Development Activities for Black STEM Postdoctoral Scholars Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39151
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