”I Wish I Would Have Known...”: Characterizing Engineering Students' Reflections on Their Graduate Experiences

Kanembe Shanachilubwa, Megan Ellery, Gabriella M. Sallai, Catherine G.P. Berdanier

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The purpose of this research paper is to characterize the experiences of engineering doctoral students as they reflect upon what they wish they had known before beginning their program. Engineering graduate enrollment rates have been declining over the past few years, while student well-being issues are rising. This work is part of an overarching investigation examining the phenomenon of engineering graduate attrition. To better understand this phenomenon, we conducted N=42 hour-long semi-structured interviews with participants recruited via email survey from the top 50 engineering Ph.D. granting universities in the United States. Using emergent coding, we analyzed the narratives of students questioning whether to remain in their Ph.D. program and those who decided to depart. Students discussed their conception of graduate school before they began and what experiences they anticipated. Participants were asked to reflect on their thoughts surrounding graduate school before arrival, how well those thoughts corresponded with their lived experiences, and what information if known, would have helped them earlier. Findings reveal that participants desire increased guidance on how their graduate programs were structured and a greater understanding of how to develop and maintain functional communication with their advisors. These findings will allow the engineering education research and practice communities to understand better how students conceptualize graduate school and provide adequate guidance and support. This study will contribute to the small body of literature concerning graduate engineering attrition and holds implications for the future of engineering graduate programs and departments in their ongoing efforts to promote their students' well-being amid the growing crisis relating to student well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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