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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Donya Dobbin
Doctor of Philosophy
Department: Mallinson Institute for Science Education
Title: Experiences that Influence a Student’s Choice on Majoring in Physics
Dr. Charles Henderson, Chair
Dr. Marcia Fetters
Dr. Alvin Rosenthal
Date: Friday, October 7 2011 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
2734 Wood Hall
Currently the production of college graduates with science and engineering degrees is insufficient to fill the increasing number of jobs requiring these skills. This study focuses on physics majors with an in-depth examination of student transitions from high school to college. Many different areas of influence could affect a student’s decision to major in physics. The first phase of this study addresses all of the potential areas of influence identified from previous literature. The goal was to identify common influences that might be used to increase students’ interest in majoring in physics. Subjects (N=35) from the first phase were recruited from physics majors at diverse Michigan colleges and universities. Individual interviews were conducted using email. The second phase of this study explored, in more depth, important areas of influence identified in the first phase. Subjects (N=94) from the second phase were recruited from diverse colleges and universities in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. These interviews were also conducted using email.
Approximately half of the students in the study decided to major in physics while still in high school. Their reasons relate to many of the areas of influence: subject, teachers, influential adults, self, and peers. For example, high school physics teachers were cited as a strong influence in many students’ decisions to major in physics. Influential physics teachers were described as being helpful, encouraging and interesting. Thus, teachers can be highly influential in how a student perceives the subject and how a student perceives their ability to perform well in the subject.
Some areas of influence were found to be different for males vs. females. For example, a high percentage of all physics majors had influential adults with careers in physical or biological science fields. Yet, this percentage was significantly higher (p=0.051) for female physics majors than for males. Female students also showed a greater initial interest in astronomy than the male students. Thus, high school and college physics teachers should seek to expose students to science-related careers and adults with these careers. Astronomy is also an important and often overlooked entry into physics.