Projections as preparation for persistence: Exploring expectations for engineering graduate school

Ellen Zerbe, Gabriella M. Sallai, Catherine G.P. Berdanier

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The purpose of this research paper is to explore the expectations that engineering students have when entering graduate school. Graduate engineering education is understudied, but recent reports have highlighted the importance of focusing on topics related to graduate student retention and thriving. Our team's recent work explored how graduate students have come to engineering and, more importantly, captured why they may be considering departing from their graduate studies, finding that students' expectations and goals for graduate school are more important than previously established: Students coming in with uncertain goals and expectations often consider departing from their PhD programs. This paper presents interviews with N=35 current engineering graduate students, exploring their perceptions for what they thought graduate school would be like. The semi-structured interview protocol probed students to think back on their transitions into their graduate programs, expectations for the graduate school experience, and whether those expectations were proven false or were validated. Findings show that those students whose expectations were incorrect and resulted in negative experiences were more likely to consider leaving their programs later in their career as a graduate student. This work adds to the relatively scarce body of literature on graduate level engineering education and will influence theory development to add to the national conversations on graduate-level completion and departure from the engineering PhD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1144
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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