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Engineering students' beliefs about research: Sex differences, personality, and career plans (Woodcock et al. 2012)

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Woodcock, A., Graziano, W., Branch, S., Ngambeki, I., & Evangelou, D. (2012). Engineering students' beliefs about research: Sex differences, personality, and career plans. Journal of Engineering Education, 101 (3), 495-511.


  • The authors explored the relationships among male and female engineering major undergraduates’ perceptions of research and researchers, their intellectual orientation toward people versus objects, and their interest in pursuing engineering research careers.
  • The authors administered an online study to second-year or higher undergraduate students in the engineering, life sciences, and psychology departments of a large research university in the midwestern United States. They used regression analysis to identify beliefs and personality traits that predict interest in engineering research careers for male and female students.
  • The study found that having a “Thing Orientation”—a predisposition to focus on objects and their manipulation instead of a tendency to notice and identify with others’ emotions—significantly predicts research interest and has a greater association with research interest among female engineering students than among their male classmates.
  • The authors also sought to discover the pathway through which Thing Orientation promotes interest in a research career by identifying associations between Thing Orientation and beliefs about research. For the female students in this sample, Thing Orientation was positively associated with the beliefs that research is innovative and transformative, requires repetitive lab work, and calls for creativity and collaboration. In turn, these beliefs affect female engineering students’ interest in research careers; the belief that research is innovative and transformative is positively associated with interest in a research career.

Reviewed by CLEAR

November 2015