Research: Characterizing Postdoctoral Education, Mentorship, Gender, and Race in the Formation of Academic Engineers and Computer Scientists

Project: Research project

Project Details


Postdoctoral education can play a critical role in future research success of computer science (CS) or engineering faculty members, but these experiences are under-studied in engineering and CS education literature. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering indicates that there are nearly 8600 postdoctoral scholars funded per year across engineering and CS; however, the lack of diversity in postdoctoral appointments is alarming. For example, women of color comprise well below 0.5% of postdoctoral scholars in their fields. Postdoctoral appointments are facilitated through faculty mentorship to help scholars develop deeper methodological and content competency, research management skills, and writing, publishing, and researching skills in preparation for a future academic career. Given that completing at least one postdoctoral research position is common for engineering and CS students preparing for competitive academic careers, these numbers can help explain continued underrepresentation of women and people of color in the professoriate. To this end, the purpose of this grant is to characterize the development of knowledge, skills, attributes, and competencies in engineering and computer science scholars, collecting perspectives of both stakeholders in the postdoc-mentor dyad with an explicit focus on same- and cross- gender and race dyads.

This project addresses the lack of scholarly work about postdoctoral development through the lens of intersectionality and mentorship across three aims. Aim 1 seeks to characterize the knowledge, skills, competencies, and attributes that postdoctoral scholars should develop through their appointments. Aim 2 will investigate narratives of postdoctoral socialization and competency development from the points of view of postdoctoral advisors and postdoctoral scholars from same- and cross- gender and race dyads. Aim 3 will use natural language processing methods to compare findings with available resources for postdoctoral mentorship and supervision. This study is framed through two theoretical lenses. Leader-member exchange theory focuses on the transactional nature of dyads in supervisory working relationships. Intersectionality theory recognizes the inherent power and positioning associated with race while also acknowledging the amplified complexity that exists for those that are situated at the intersection of race and gender. Existing theories of academic socialization can be expanded for postdoctoral education using these two lenses. Phase 1 of research is survey- and interview-based to collect information from faculty and postdoctoral scholars in two different data collection formats to meet the first two aims of the project. The quantitative results will provide context and a participant pool for the semi-structured interview portion of the research, which will highlight potential reasons for the continued underrepresentation and marginalization of diverse groups in CS and engineering postdoctoral positions. The quantitative and qualitative research will inform the second phase of research in which with freely available postdoctoral mentoring tools, plans, and guidelines available on the internet will be evaluated using natural language processing and other machine learning tools. The data from Phase 2 will indicate how postdoctoral mentoring plans and resources can be improved and enacted to support professional and personal development of both postdocs and mentors. Expected results include that mentorship plans in general do not address diversity, equity, and inclusion, or suggestions to help faculty build diversity in their postdoctoral scholars. and that postdoctoral mentorship resources for engineering and CS departments may not emphasize the opportunities and potential difficulties that come with cross-gender and/or cross-race mentorship relationships. Deliverables for this project include workshops and resources to improve postdoctoral mentoring experiences for both postdocs and their mentors.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date6/1/205/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $350,000.00


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