Studying Successful Doctoral Students in Mathematics from Underrepresented Groups

Thursday 12:40 pm – 1:05 pm PT / 1:40 pm – 2:05 pm MT / 2:40 pm – 3:05 pm CT / 3:40 pm – 4:05 pm ET Online

Sarah Sword, Education Development Center
Michael Young, Iowa State University
Carl Westine, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Aris Winger, Georgia Gwinnett College
Maya Bartel, Iowa State University
Dwight Williams II, Iowa State University
Christian McRoberts, Iowa State University
Simone Sisneros-Thiry, California State University-East Bay
Miriam Gates, Education Development Center
Pamela Harris, Williams College

In this presentation we report on the early stages of a study, conducted by Iowa State University, Education Development Center, Inc., and University of North Carolina Charlotte, on the experiences of successful doctoral students from underrepresented groups in the mathematical sciences.
That fewer than 5% of new PhDs in mathematics are awarded to students from underrepresented groups is a problem with far-reaching effects. Broadening participation in STEM requires broadening participation in STEM courses and majors in college. Yet, STEM majors pass through departments of mathematics, which ultimately lack diversity. This lack of diversity perpetuates a systemic barrier to graduate school for most students from historically marginalized groups. Diversifying mathematics faculty is thus critical to broadening participation in STEM.
We are conducting comprehensive, in-depth, semi-structured interviews to study the experiences, perspectives, and stories of doctoral students and recent PhDs from underrepresented groups in mathematics. The students are in four cohorts of success: newly accepted students, early graduate students (pre-qualifying exams), advanced graduate students (dissertation level), and recent PhDs (0-5 years since graduation). In our design, we start by listening to and understanding the voices of graduate students themselves to inform decisions about changing mathematics department cultures and practices (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Berry, 2008).
In interviews ranging from one to three hours, study participants share their journeys leading into and through mathematics departments.
This presentation zeroes in on the questions we are asking, why we are asking those questions, and what kinds of responses the questions are surfacing. Discussion will include reflecting on the types of questions session participants ask students in their own graduate programs, why and how they ask those questions, and what else they would like to know about their students.

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