Choice in the Advisor Selection Processes of Doctoral Engineering Programs

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Virginia Tech

Research on doctoral student attrition has shown that one of the main reasons for which students do not persist in the Ph.D. is because of a poor relationship with their doctoral advisor. The importance of the advising relationship is especially true in science, math, and engineering degrees because of the science model of advising as the student is the advisor's employee, close collaborator, and apprentice. While much attention has been given to understanding the dynamics of the advising relationship, little attention has been given to on how these relationships commence or the context in which they begin. This study ultimately contributes to understanding the context of the inception of advisor- advisee relationships and how it ultimately relates to both faculty and doctoral student satisfaction. The following overarching research questions guide this dissertation: What are the processes for doctoral students to find advisors in engineering, science, and math? How is this process experienced by faculty and students? To address these questions, I conducted three studies. Through these studies, this dissertation: 1) Identified and described the types of advisor-advisee selection processes that exist in engineering, science, and math and examined trends and patterns across disciplines; 2) compared how two Chemical Engineering programs practice the advisor selection process and examined how faculty and graduate program directors negotiate agency in the process and 3) explored how students experience satisfaction of their basic needs in the advisor selection process of one Chemical Engineering program and examined which student attributes influence this satisfaction of needs. The results showed that there are multiple ways through which a student can find an advisor in science, math, and engineering doctoral program, but these vary widely by both discipline and field of study. The results also showed both students and faculty value the ability to select whom they will work with. However, both groups may also need support in making this decision regarding with whom they will work. Overall, the results of this dissertation highlight the importance of developing practices that balance an individual's need for support and autonomy to improve their satisfaction.

Doctoral Education, Advisor Selection, Faculty Satisfaction