Investigating the Influence of Interpersonal Dynamics and Sociocultural Fit in STEM Research Apprenticeships
Effective Years: 2023-2027
Efforts to broaden and diversify the STEM workforce include programs that engage undergraduate STEM students in conducting scientific research with faculty mentors. Although there is evidence that these mentoring relationships can be beneficial, there is also evidence of variations in student outcomes from these experiences. Existing research provides limited insight into why some students thrive in these mentored research experiences while others may struggle. The proposed research will investigate the influence of interpersonal dynamics and sociocultural background as potential mechanisms of variable outcomes of undergraduate research experiences. Findings could provide novel insights about how students and mentors may influence one another and how these interactions may be shaped by participants’ sociocultural values and interpersonal dynamics. Results from this research could be used to improve mentoring programs, especially those that aspire to attract students from marginalized backgrounds into the STEM workforce.
The proposed research aims to advance the research mentoring literature by investigating underexplored dimensions of STEM research apprenticeships. The project will investigate how interpersonal dynamics and sociocultural fit may relate to student STEM research apprenticeship outcomes. Using a mixed-methods, sequential exploratory design and leveraging social exchange theory and community cultural wealth frameworks, project goals are to 1) understand student and mentor conceptualizations of interpersonal dynamics and sociocultural fit within research apprenticeships, 2) analyze longitudinal associations between student perceptions of sociocultural fit and academic attitudes and outcomes, and 3) explore the dynamics of mentoring relationships over time and identify pivotal moments that may influence perceptions of mentoring relationship quality. These goals will be addressed across three studies that focus on student and research mentor pairs – study 1: 35 mentoring pairs, study 2: 100 mentoring pairs, and study 3: 150 mentoring pairs) – who are involved in STEM research apprenticeships. Data collection on student outcomes will include assessment of student academic attitudes, future STEM career plans, and science inquiry aptitude. This research will be carried out in partnership with pre-existing summer research programs at colleges and universities that serve students from a range of sociodemographic backgrounds. Given that undergraduate STEM research apprenticeships are widely used as tools aiming to broaden and diversify the STEM workforce, the findings of the effort could have significant and transformative impacts across STEM disciplines, apprenticeship models, and institution types.
This project is supported by NSF's Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
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.