In this symposium, the researchers will present three empirical studies that focus on STEM career pathways. The purpose of this session is to provide the audience with a better understanding of factors contributing to underrepresented populations’ educational choices and career decision-making. The presenters will focus on multiple time points in the training trajectory, addressing the early postsecondary entry points for undergraduates, students engaging in undergraduate research and/or internships with corporate industry, and postdoctoral scholars as they decide between faculty, researcher, or non-academic career roles.
Tonisha Lane will focus on the role of undergraduate research in developing a STEM identity among women scientists of color. Using interview data collected from 15 Black females and Latinas, she explores the advantages of engaging in undergraduate research. Participants reported that building relationships with faculty, engaging in scientific practices, strengthening their technical skills, preparing materials for conference presentations, and being recognized for their work solidified their identities as future scientists and engineers. These opportunities also demonstrated to the students their aptitude for graduate education and academic careers. Furthermore, this presentation will utilize social and cultural capital as analytical lenses to elucidate how participation in undergraduate research creates critical pathways to graduate education and academic careers for women of color.
Dr. Christopher Newman will present research based on a multiple case study of two predominantly White public research universities. Interviews were conducted with 70 individuals including undergraduate engineering and computer science majors, faculty, senior administrators, and baccalaureate recipients who completed their degree within 3-5 years at the time of the study. His research investigates how undergraduate experiences with corporate internships and individual’s financial circumstances inform students’ consideration of pursuing careers in industry. Personal finances as well as the allure of lucrative employment within corporate industry appeared to play a considerable role in participants’ intent to enter the labor market instead of pursuing graduate degrees. An econometric model of investing in human capital, tempered with a social capital framework, is employed to help interpret students’ decision-making processes. Drawing from multiple perspectives from students, faculty, and administrators, the presenter will discuss important implications for the future of STEM fields and the possible systematic diversion from graduate education and, subsequent, academic/research careers.
The research presented by Drs. Kimberly Griffin and Kenneth Gibbs will address career development during graduate and postdoctoral training. They will present survey data collected from 1,000 American postdocs, assessing their current level of interest in four career paths: faculty at a research university; faculty at a teaching university; researcher outside of academia; and non-academic careers. Participants were also asked to reflect on and indicate their interest in each career path before graduate school and after completing their PhDs. Analyses examined how career interests changed over time, the factors that may be shaping career interest development, and whether there were differences in patterns by social identity. Regression analyses showed that group differences in interest in faculty careers were explained by career interest differences formed during graduate school, but not by differences in research productivity, self-efficacy or advisor relationships. This work highlights the need to attend to graduate experiences and training, and suggests scientists must be provided with career information early to have greater influence on development.
This symposium will conclude with time for questions and discussion regarding the various pathways to STEM careers, and factors that influence decision-making. Further, we will generate discussion regarding strategies and programs that could be implemented to increase diversity in various STEM career paths.