Discipline: Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences
Room: Park Tower 8228
Kathryn Starkey - University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Co-Author(s): Dr. Sylvia Mendez, UCCS, Colorado Springs, CO; Dean Valerie Martin-Conley, UCCS, Colorado Springs, CO; Dr. Sarah Cooksey, UCCS, Colorado Springs, CO
This study explores the career decision-making process of postdoctoral scholars in STEM fields, a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program, aimed at understanding how the decision process influences the pursuit of a career in academia upon completion of their postdoctoral appointment, particularly for underrepresented minorities (URMs). The Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) originally developed by Lent, Brown, and Hackett (1994) was utilized as the theoretical framework guiding this study, which provided a context to understand the factors that guide URMs in making career-based decisions. The larger project investigates their decision-making process based on one?s background and environmental factors that affected their learning experiences, self-efficacy, interests, supports, barriers, goals, and outcome expectations. Fifty interview participants were recruited through a National Postdoctoral Association dedicated e-alert to all members, yielding both current and former STEM postdoctoral scholars as participants, of which 17 were underrepresented minorities. Participants took part in a semi-structed interview and received a $25.00 gift card for their participation. Interview data were analyzed with inductive and deductive techniques to themes and patterns through coding cycles (Silverman, 1993) while memoing. Using Stake?s (1995) process, a prominent theme that emerged for underrepresented minority postdoctoral fellows was the impact of their mentor on their success both during and after their postdoctoral appointment. Some mentors were supportive, helping postdocs foster their next career steps, while other participants spoke of an unsupportive environment, feeling like forgotten cogs of the university?s research arm. Mentors played an important role on the atmosphere of the research lab in which the postdoctoral scholar researched. The implications of the scholar-mentor relationship for underrepresented minorities in STEM field ultimately play a role in the career decision-making process for this group, from how this influences one’s lab environment, fosters networking, encourages individual growth, encourages an atmosphere of equality in the workplace, and advises career decision-making. CCT was useful in placing this study in a foundation of established knowledge and offered logical explanations for the relationships observed but also it revealed new understandings of URM STEM identity. Future research can trace these students longitudinally to see how current postdocs’ decisions morph over time and influence their career paths based on various experiences and contexts of the scholar-mentor relationship. Ultimately this and future research can help to understand engineering postdoc experiences as catalysts for underrepresented minority (URM) entry into, and success within, STEM academia.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): National Science Foundation, UCCS OSP# 18-076
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Sylvia Mendez, email@example.com
Role: Drafted the IRB Report of Change to add this new subset of our larger NSF project. Aided in the creation of the interview protocol and recruitment process for participants through the National Postdoctoral Association. Conducted 18 interviews with current and former postdoctoral students, helped distribute gift cards for interview participants, coded all interviews in a group coding process, wrote the literature review, group writing and editing for the analysis section of the paper.