Date of Award

May 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Lisa C Benson

Committee Member

Adam N Kirn

Committee Member

Marisa K Orr

Committee Member

Sandra M Linder


In this doctoral work I seek to answer the research question: “In what ways are mid-year engineering students thinking about their future careers, and how are their perceptions related to their current academic actions and decisions?” I use a multi-phase mixed methods research design with a phenomenographic approach guided by theoretical frameworks of future time perspectives, future possible selves, and goal paths. In the five-phase study, the qualitative strands provide an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon, and quantitative strands allow for a broader exploration of the phenomenon across multiple majors and institutions.

Four different ways of thinking about the future possible careers were identified and described using an analogy of shapes of ice-cream cones: Sugar Cone—one well-defined ideal and attainable future possible career; Cake Cone—broad and optimistic perceptions of future possible careers; Waffle Cone—conflicting ideal and realistic future possible careers; and Cup—lack of future-oriented motivation with feelings of being stuck in engineering. These four ways of thinking about the future are further described by how the present and future connect, their relationship to different academic and social identity demographics, and shifts in these perceptions over time. These results provide a visualizable and memorable framework for understanding the variety of ways mid-year engineering students are perceiving their future possible careers, and they provide insight into how to create an inclusive classroom environment for different types of motivations.



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