University of Colorado at Boulder

Graduate Education

Several E&ER research studies have examined graduate STEM education, including issues of career preparation, career choice, professional development in teaching, graduate advising and women’s progress to Ph.D.s.

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Career Preparation and Decision-Making of Doctoral Students

A current study examines professional socialization and career preparation in Ph.D. programs in chemistry. The first phase of the study examines the broad landscape of Ph.D. programs in order to identify patterns in how programs are evolving to meet changing workforce needs and scientific trends. Second, through interviews with students, faculty and staff in a diverse set of Ph.D. programs, we are gathering in-depth information on what students understand and believe about their career options, how they develop these ideas through their graduate student years, and how they make their own career decisions.

Laursen, S., & Weston, T. J. (2014).  Trends in Ph.D. productivity and diversity in top-50 chemistry departments.  Journal of Chemical Education. DOI 10.1021/ed4006997. Open access via ACS Editors' Choice

Thiry, H. L., Laursen, S. L., & Loshbaugh, H. G. (2013).  Doctoral advisors' perspectives on career advising and professional preparation in the sciences. Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis, 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA, April 27-May 1. Download a copy

Laursen, S. L., Thiry, H. L., & Loshbaugh, H. G. (2012). Mind the gap: The mismatch between career decision-making needs and opportunities for science Ph.D. students. Paper presented at 2012 AERA Annual Meeting, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 13-17, 2012. Download a copy

Loshbaugh, H. L., Laursen, S. L., & Thiry, H. (2011). Reaction to changing times: Trends and tensions in U.S. chemistry graduate education. Journal of Chemical Education, 88, 708-715. DOI 10.1021/ed1008574 abstract Download a copy

Laursen, S., Thiry, H., Loshbaugh, H. (2009, March). What have we learned? Across the U.S., Ph.D. programs in chemistry are changing to meet contemporary demands. First findings from a study of professional preparation of chemistry Ph.D.s. (Research brief) Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research. Download a copy

The Ph.D. Careers study compared Ph.D. physical scientists’ career preparation in graduate school with the career skills and knowledge they needed in their current work, using a combination of retrospective surveys and interviews. Scientists reported strong preparation in research and analytical skills but weaker preparation in communication, interdisciplinary work, and teaching.

Smith, S. J., Pedersen-Gallegos, L., & Riegle-Crumb, C. (2002). The training, careers, and work of Ph.D. physical scientists: Not simply academic. American Journal of Physics 70(11), 1081-1092.

The study of professional socialization in chemistry was supported by the National Science Foundation under award DRL-0723600. The Ph.D. Careers study was supported by the National Foundation under award SES-9704011. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these reports are those of the researchers, and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.

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Preparation of Graduate Students for Teaching

In an interview study of graduate students’ participation in an inquiry-based science outreach program to K-12 classrooms, E&ER researchers found that the graduate student scientists experienced powerful professional development in teaching. The opportunity to prepare and repeat their presentations frequently for varied audiences provided a high-intensity practicum that helped the students to develop flexibility and confidence in their ability to design and adapt a lesson. For some, the experience confirmed and clarified their intended career goals, which included teaching, while others experienced more dramatic shifts in their career plans from research to teaching. We also analyze reasons for the overrepresentation of women in this and other teaching and outreach programs. This study also examined outcomes for the K-12 students and teachers.

Laursen, S. L., Thiry, H., & Liston, C. (2012). The impact of a university-based school science outreach program on graduate student participants’ career paths and professional socialization. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 16(2), 47-78. Download a copy

Laursen, S., Liston, C., Thiry, H., & Graf, J. (2007). What good is a scientist in the classroom? Participant outcomes and program design features for a short-duration science outreach intervention in K-12 classrooms. CBE-Life Sciences Online 6, 49-64.

Thiry, H., Laursen, S. L., & Liston, C. (2007). (De)Valuing teaching in the academy: Why are underrepresented graduate students overrepresented in teaching and outreach? Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 13(4), 391-419. DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.v13.i4.50

Participating in development and teaching of a student-centered undergraduate curriculum was a significant professional development experience for graduate and advanced undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs) in STEM fields. This book draws on three E&ER studies to report what and how TAs learned, as well as their observations of learning and resistance among their undergraduate students.

Seymour, E, with Melton, G., Wiese, D. J., & Pedersen-Gallegos, L. (2005). Partners in Innovation: Teaching Assistants in College Science Courses. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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Graduate Advising

Given the apprenticeship structure of STEM graduate education, the graduate advisor is a major influence on STEM graduate students’ lives and professional growth. This analysis of interview data reveals three main functions for an “ideal type” advisor who offers students departmental and disciplinary moorings, career and program advice, and individualized mentoring.

De Welde, K., & Laursen, S. L. (2008). The “Ideal type” advisor: How advisors help STEM graduate students find their ‘scientific feet.’  The Open Education Journal (1), 49-61. DOI: 10.2174/1874920800801010049.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under award HRD-0123636. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these reports are those of the researchers, and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.

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