F10-SP3-3 - Co-constructing engineering doctoral identities through career prospects

3. Research Work In Progress
Laura Gelles , Idalis Villanueva1
1 University of Florida

This WIP paper explores how engineering doctoral identity influences the perceived career prospects and resources of domestic engineering doctoral students. Recruiting and retaining doctoral students is important to ensuring faculty productivity, especially in disciplines such as engineering where individuals can attain a well-paying job with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Doctoral students receive the training and skills to become an independent researcher while simultaneously assisting faculty with research and teaching. However, doctoral students may lack the support or resources to pursue the job position of their choice, especially for non-academic positions. Therefore, it is important to provide them with opportunities, training, and information (i.e., resources) about different types of careers to not only ensure they are productive contributors of teaching and research, but also equip them for future career prospects.

This qualitative study used a combination of Narrative Inquiry and Action Research methodologies with nine current or recently graduated domestic doctoral student participants and four university staff participants who offer career resources to or have professional responsibilities towards graduate students. The intent of the study was to highlight the experiences or ‘stories’ of these doctoral students at a research institution within the western United States to explore the perceived career prospects of these students and how those career prospects influenced the types of supports and resources they pursued. Data were collected from doctoral student participants through semi-structured interviews and from staff participants more flexibly through identifying relevant resources (e.g. webpages, information), email solicitations, and informal and formal interviews. Student data was analyzed using literary and a priori coding methods and thematic analysis.

Thematic analysis yielded the emergence of three themes: (1) Engineering Doctoral Identity; (2) Engineering Doctoral Skill Development; and (3) Time. This WIP paper will primarily focus on the first theme of Engineering Doctoral Identity. While the doctoral student participants had varied experiences and backgrounds, their aggregate perspectives revealed a co-constructed engineering doctoral identity which evolved throughout their time within their programs. This identity was formed primarily in response to ‘insiders’, or people who have or are pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering. Research emerged as central to engineering doctoral identity and was reinforced by ‘insiders’. Participants’ value of research came at the cost of relatively devaluing other skills (e.g., teaching), career functions, and career resources. On the other hand, doctoral student participants had to manage their perceived fit with ‘outsiders’ who assess the utility of a Ph.D. in engineering for employment. Doctoral student participants had to negotiate their fit with ‘insider ‘conceptions and definitions of what it personally means to be successful in their programs and in their future careers. These conceptions affected what types of skill development opportunities were more easily available within and outside their doctoral programs. Doctoral student perception and utilization of resources was also influenced by insiders (i.e., engineering faculty), which revealed a preference for resources offered by insiders. Career resources offered by major professors/research advisors were highly regarded and sought after by participants while those offered by Career Services were not pursued at all.