PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is examining research in intersectionality to inform the structure of interventions that influence underrepresented minority (URM) STEM graduate students and postdoctoral fellows’ retention in STEM training programs and pursuit of STEM careers. Intersectionality, originally defined by Kimberle’ Crenshaw (1989) and further popularized by Patricia Hill Collins (1998), has been used as a lens to view intersecting oppressions such as those within and between race, class and gender. Our work looks at the intersection of underrepresentation in STEM, and STEM identity. URM STEM students can manifest feelings of inadequacy, struggles with departure from community and culture, and (e.g., Tinto, 1993; Giuffrida, 2006), and we’re interested in investigating how disconnections from community, and internal and external lack of acceptance as “a scientist” might impact persistence. As we examine research and seek to impact practice, we learn from Carlone and Johnson’s (2007) “Theory of Science Identity” which describes three dimensions: competence, performance and recognition. The PROMISE AGEP seeks to improve underrepresented minority (URM) STEM performance, by providing academic professional development to solidify competencies, using workshop-based interventions such as “Writing for Publication” and “Improving Public Speaking.” In an effort to build a comprehensive program that engages URMs in STEM, we’ve also included the “integration and fulfillment of needs” element from McMillan & Chavis’ 1986 theory of Psychological Sense of Community within professional development activities to provide concepts that are transferrable to daily life. This presentation focuses on three areas of “holistic” professional development that have had traction with URMs in STEM at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC): psychological well-being, financial Literacy, and career-life balance. We believe that the integration of holistic and academic forms of professional development build connections among URMs that encourage competencies within the discipline, and contribute to STEM identity.
UMBC’s psychological well-being workshops address anxieties, and identify cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing. Financially-based seminars include investing and planning for retirement. Career-life balance sessions discuss managing family and life responsibilities, and health and wellness. Data trends from the workshops show that students agree that they are presented with tools and new knowledge, e.g., controlling apathy, credit scores, and structures for career-life integration. The workshops provide information that is not typically accessed by students of color. (As an example, URMs score the lowest on financial literacy tests, with failure percentages above 80% (Mandell, 2008).) However, our data show that URMs note that these workshops provide new information, contribute to their sense of community, connect them to others with similar ideas, and contribute to degree completion. We believe that these elements connect with the “recognition” dimension of “The Theory of Science Identity” and that URMs’ regular and repeated participation in professional development (both academic and holistic) can increase depth of engagement in research, lead to higher levels of STEM competence and performance, and contribute to their STEM identity.
The Evolution of Career Intentions of Biomedical PhD Students: A Longitudinal Qualitative Study of a Diverse Population
Christine Wood, Remi Jones, and Robin Remich—all of Northwestern University
Much has been written about the declining interest in biomedical academic careers as students progress through the PhD. This decline contributes to the extremely low rate of progress toward achieving faculty diversity. However, very little is known about the experiences that shape career interests and the process by which students refine future plans. In this presentation, we introduce our research that explores how biomedical PhD students make decisions about what careers to pursue as they progress through the first two years of graduate school. After a brief overview of the methods we used to longitudinally analyze career intentions and decision-making, we present preliminary findings focusing on factors that influence students’ intentions toward and away from academic careers. We distinguish perceptions of three different types of academic careers: research-intensive, teaching-intensive and research/teaching mixed. We frame our findings using four patterns of student interest in academic careers, students with (1) consistently high academic career intention; (2) increase in academic career intention; (3) decrease in academic career intention; and (4) fluctuating academic career intention. We will share demographics for each pattern as they compare with our full sample revealing which patterns are more heavily populated by students under-represented in biomedical faculty positions, e.g., females, non-Whites, and non-Asians.
Our data come from in-depth interviews with 198 PhD students in the biomedical sciences conducted annually for 3-5 years, beginning with the start of each student’s PhD career. Our population is diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. About two-thirds (63%) are female. Twenty-nine percent are considered under-represented racially and ethnically in the sciences (non-White and non-Asian). Specifically, 15% identified as Black or African American, 11% as Hispanic, and 2% as Native American. This research is part of the National Longitudinal Study of Young Life Scientists (NYSYLS), a longitudinal study begun in 2008 to better understand the experiences of a diverse population of students during biomedical PhD training.
For this analysis, we used longitudinal qualitative methods to compile, display, and analyze in-depth interviews conducted over time. For our analysis, we focused on data collected at interviews from questions targeted at career intentions, such as (1) “As of today, what do you want to do when you finish your PhD?” (2) “What attracts you to the particular option or options you are considering?” (3) “Right now, what priorities are most important to you as you decide among career options?” (4) “How do you envision balancing a career with other things in your life, in say 10-15 years?” For this study the team developed a coding rubric to assess strength of career intention for the three different types of academic careers, as well as assessing interest in trajectories towards industry, government, and careers outside of research.
Supported by R01 GM085385.
Toward a Career-Specific Developmental Model for African Americans in STEM
LaVar J. Charleston and Jerlando F. L. Jackson—both of University of Wisconsin-Madison
This study sought to ascertain key factors that contribute to African Americans’ STEM pursuits. The design of this study varied from previous research by examining the career trajectories of current STEM professionals, particularly in the field of computing sciences, rather than those who did not persist, or those in the beginning stages of the pipeline. As such, this study allowed the researchers to implicate a heuristic model that serves to help illuminate as well as facilitate decision-making toward educational and occupational considerations in STEM fields in general and the computing sciences in particular.