, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 273-281

Factors in Decisions of Underrepresented Minorities to Forego Science and Engineering Doctoral Study: A Pilot Study

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Abstract

The research described here comprised a pilot study that attempted to identify the factors in decisions of highly capable students from underrepresented minority groups to forego study for science or engineering doctorates. Underrepresented students are defined as Blacks, Hispanics, and Indians. While these groups will soon comprise 30% or more of the population, they receive only 5% of the S & E (Science and Engineering) doctorates. The research was completed under NSF (National Science Foundation) grant no. REC 9908861. The research built on a previous NSF study (RED-9355867) that identified the most effective colleges and universities in the country in the preparation of Black, Hispanic, and Indian science and engineering students for study toward the PhD degree. One of the major concerns raised during the site visits to the top 10 institutions serving these groups was the loss of capable students to other careers. The study obtained information from minority graduates about factors impacting persistence to graduate studies in science and engineering and solicited suggestions for attracting more people like themselves to S & E doctoral study. Twelve underrepresented minority S & E graduates who decided to forego doctoral study in favor of other pursuits. Themes emerging from these conversations regarding reluctance to pursue advanced study included the following: concern for ability to finance such study; weaknesses in advisement practices and systems; lack of full knowledge, early on, about the rewards of doctoral employment; and concern about opportunities for employment after graduation. Suggestions proffered for attracting more underrepresented minorities to S & E doctoral study included the following: early socialization of youngsters into the world of science and its practice; expanded funding for scholarships and fellowships; expanded outreach by colleges and universities; expanded efforts by churches and community groups and deeper commitments by colleges and universities.