Understanding Graduate Engineering Student Well-Being for Prediction of Retention

The research reported here was supported by the US National Science Foundation, through award #2034800 to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Jennifer Cromley, PI 

Karin J. Jensen

Doctoral students frequently leave engineering, thereby reducing the supply of highly-trained engineers in the US and contributing to lost tuition investments made for doctoral student tuition. Graduate students face many stresses: from classwork, from their paid teaching and research commitments, and from other stressors outside of their graduate work. In this research on the formation of engineers, we will identify major stressors that PhD-level engineering students commonly face, create and validate a questionnaire to measure these stressors, and test how stress can predict students’ intentions to leave their doctoral programs. The project uses a workplace stress model in which having low control over job hindrances (e.g. course availability, graduation requirements, COVID-19) leads to harmful stress. The results of this study can inform a wide range of programs and personnel who support doctoral engineering students, including faculty advisors and engineering departments, counselling centers, career centers, writing centers, and others. Although prior research work has identified major stressors, little work has been done to compare sources of stress for graduate PhD students and the effects of these stressors on retention. With a research-backed identification of major stressors and their effects, these stakeholders above can be empowered to adopt programmatic changes or other strategies proactively addressing the stressors we will identify. The measure of doctoral students’ stressors that we produce can be broadly implemented by other universities to identify where more supports are needed, to expand available supports, and by other researchers seeking to understand effects of stress on STEM education.

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