Geoscience Academic Provenance: A Comparison of Undergraduate Students’ Pathways to Faculty Pathways

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Most Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines have a direct recruiting method of high school science courses to supply their undergraduate majors. However, recruitment and retention of students into geoscience academic programs, who will be the future workforce, remains an important issue. The geoscience community is reaching a critical point in its ability to supply enough geoscientists to meet the current and near-future demand. Previous work done by Houlton (2010) determined that undergraduate geoscience majors follow distinct pathways when pursuing their degree and career. These pathways are comprised of students’ interests, experiences, goals and career aspirations, which are depicted in six pathway steps. Three population groups were determined from the original 17 participants, which exhibited differences in pathway trajectories. Continued data collection efforts developed and refined the pathway framework. As part of an informal workshop activity, data were collected from 27 participants who are underrepresented minority early-career and future faculty in the geosciences. In addition, 20 geoscience departments’ Heads and Chairs participated in an online survey about their pathway trajectories. Pathways were determined from each of these new sample populations and compared against the original geoscience undergraduate student participants. Several pathway components consistently spanned across sample populations. Identification of these themes have illuminated broad geoscience-related interests, experiences and aspirations that can be used to broadly impact recruitment and retention initiatives for our discipline. Furthermore, fundamental differences between participants’ ages, stages in career and racial/ethnic backgrounds have exhibited subtle nuances in their geoscience pathway trajectories. In particular, those who’ve had research experiences, who think “creativity” is an important aspect of a geoscience career and those who want to share their knowledge with students may be more inclined to pursue academic positions. Indicators, like these, expand the pathway model and foster the development of a more robust framework for recruitment and retention in academia, as well as industry.

  • Heather Houlton*
  • Christopher Keane*
  • Carolyn Wilson*
  • American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2012