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Factors that facilitate or inhibit interest of domestic students in the engineering PhD: A mixed methods study

Michelle C Howell Smith, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Given the increasing complexity of technology in our society, the United States has a growing demand for a more highly educated technical workforce. Unfortunately, the proportion of United States citizens earning a PhD in engineering has been declining and there is concern about meeting the economic, national security and quality of life needs of our country. ^ This mixed methods sequential exploratory instrument design study identified factors that facilitate or inhibit interest in engineering PhD programs among domestic engineering undergraduate students in the United States. This study developed a testable theory for how domestic students become interested in engineering PhD programs and a measure of that process, the Exploring Engineering Interest Inventory (EEII). The study was conducted in four phases. ^ The first phase of the study was a qualitative grounded theory exploration of interest in the engineering PhD. Qualitative data were collected from domestic engineering students, engineering faculty and industry professional who had earned a PhD in engineering. The second phase, instrument development, developed the Exploring Engineering Interest Inventory (EEII), a measurement instrument designed with good psychometric properties to test a series of preliminary hypotheses related to the theory generated in the qualitative phase. In the third phase of the study, the EEII was used to collect data from a larger sample of junior and senior engineering majors. The fourth phase integrated the findings from the qualitative and quantitative phases. ^ Four factors were identified as being significant influences of interest in the engineering PhD: Personal characteristics, educational environment, misperceptions of the economic and personal costs, and misperceptions of engineering work. Recommendations include increasing faculty encouragement of students to pursue an engineering PhD and programming to correct the misperceptions of the costs of the engineering PhD and the nature of the work that PhD engineers do. The tested model provides engineering educators with information to help them prioritize their efforts to increase interest in the engineering PhD among domestic students.^

Subject Area

Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Sciences|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Howell Smith, Michelle C, "Factors that facilitate or inhibit interest of domestic students in the engineering PhD: A mixed methods study" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3466518.