Turned Off from an Academic Career: Engineering and Computing Doctoral Students and the Reasons for Their Dissuasion

Ebony O McGee, Dara E Naphan-Kingery, Faheemah N Mustafaa, Stacey Houston, Portia Botchway, Jeremy Lynch
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 277-305

We sought to understand factors that dissuade engineering and computing doctoral students in the United States from pursuing a career in the professoriate.

Many PhD students start the doctoral process excited about the possibility of becoming a professor. After a few years of doctoral education, however, many become less interested in academic careers or even come to loathe the idea of a faculty position.

Participants in a larger study (N = 744) completed a comprehensive survey about their educational experiences and career aspirations. This study focused on a subset of these respondents (n = 147), who indicated they did not want to pursue faculty positions and explained their reasoning with a brief open-ended response. We coded these open-ended responses.

We found a general lack of interest in the professoriate and disgust over the associated pressure-filled norms and culture; this aversion is the article’s focus. Respondents were critical of institutional norms that emphasize research (e.g., stress related to grant writing, publishing, and promotion as junior faculty) and described their own experiences as PhD students.

Findings support rethinking the outdated faculty model and interchanging it with healthier and more holistic approaches.

These approaches might include advocating for and emphasizing the contributions of research, teaching, and professional excellence as well as removing the secrecy and toxicity of tenure and promotion that discourage individuals from becoming the next generation of engineering and computing educators and knowledge makers.

Future researchers should explore in greater depth the extent to which junior faculty’s experiences in the professoriate influence doctoral students’ and postdoctoral scholars’ attitudes toward working in academia. To the extent that this is the case, researchers should then explore ways of improving faculty experiences, in addition to improving doctoral students’ experiences that are unrelated to their socialization.

Having a deeper understanding of the reasons why some doctoral engineering and computing students are uninterested in the professoriate is critical for removing barriers toward becoming faculty.

Researchers should explore the factors that would improve doctoral students’ perceptions of the professoriate, and better understand how they might disproportionately affect members of historically underrepresented groups.

doctoral programs, engineering and computing, academic careers
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