2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Work in Progress: Bridging the Gap in Doctoral Engineering Education—Critically Investigating Factors Influencing Performance Outcomes on First Doctoral Degree Milestones

Presented at Student Division (STDT) Technical Session 6: Underserved Student Experiences

This is a work-in-progress paper. It is well documented that Black students tend to enroll and complete engineering Ph.D.s at disproportionately lower rates than their peers. What is less understood are the most critical factors influencing their success at critical junctures in the Ph.D. program. Existing scholarship on the socialization processes embedded in pursuing a graduate degree are based on the premise that transitioning into a hyper-specialized area is challenging. One of the most challenging aspects of pursuing a Ph.D. are the academic milestones that are unique to degree completion (e.g., qualifying/comprehensive exam, proposal/preliminary exam, dissertation defense). The creation of the Dissertation Institute is one example of a program for engineering students hoping to succeed in the latter milestones. However, the focus of this study is the first milestone – the qualifying/comprehensive exam based on a robust understanding of foundational concepts introduced in core courses. There are multiple reasons why success on milestones may be challenging. Unlike course assessments of an isolated concept or skill that may have been the norm in prior degrees, successful completion of program-level degree milestones embedded in pursuing a Ph.D. require students to integrate ideas, skills, and ways of being learned across courses to accomplish a unique task that comes with being a scholar in the discipline. The purpose of this preliminary mapping review is to outline the major categories of scholarship on salient factors that influence Black engineering Ph.D. students’ successful completion of their first academic milestone. The findings of this study will provide the basis of a future study that will have implications for Black graduate students hoping to excel in their Ph.D. program and the faculty involved in preparing Ph.D. students with diverse lived experiences to pass their first of many academic milestones.

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