CRA-DMP Evaluation Report #1

The Students' Point of View: Issues Involved in Participating in the DMP

In this section we will discuss characteristics of the DMP as experienced by the 1994 and 1995 student participants. Many of these are themes that the students themselves initiated and discussed in our interviews; other themes arose specifically out of questions asked in the interviews. Our discussion will focus on the following aspects of the DMP: students' expectations of the program, their transition into a more sophisticated understanding of academic life through the immersive nature of the DMP, and their view of the role of the mentor. This report will focus on the experience of both the 1994 and 1995 student participants in the DMP and their perceptions of the program's influence prior to making career decisions.

I. Students enter the DMP to make decisions about future career paths

Almost all of the student participants entered the mentor program with the expectation that their experience would give them the knowledge with which to make decisions about their future career paths. Many mentioned that they were particularly interested in finding out if computer science and engineering (CS&E) was "right" for them by working in the field. In addition, many hoped to learn about graduate school, research and academic positions through the DMP and planned to make decisions about whether these were paths they wanted to pursue in the future. In the following interview excerpts students discussed these expectations:

Well, [I expected] that [the DMP] would give me a chance to see what graduate school might be like, and what research might be like. Also it would give me a chance to figure out whether I was good for computer science or not.
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I: What were you initially hoping to get out of your experience?

R: I was initially hoping that I would decide whether or not I wanted to go to grad school, and that perhaps I'd find what I wanted to specialize in.

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I mean it was kind of like pseudograduate school summer type of thing and I liked that idea too, because at the time when I applied I was really hesitant over whether I wanted to go right on to graduate school. So I kind of wanted to see what it was like and maybe meet some graduate students, because my college doesn't have any kind of graduate program.
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I was just looking for sort of a taste of what research was, an idea of what grad school was, just more information really. I was sitting there thinking, "Hey, grad school might be nice." But I didn't have any concrete ideas of what grad school really was and so I was looking for more information.
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I: What made you decide to even apply for the program?

R: Well, it looked like an ideal summer job. Like I would learn a lot. I would learn about research, and I would learn more about grad school.

The DMP was an opportunity to decide between an academic and non-academic career

In our interviews, some students discussed that they were attempting to decide between an academic and non-academic career. Many of these students hoped that their experience in the DMP would provide them with knowledge about academic life, which they could to use as a basis for comparison with other career options.

At [the time I applied for the DMP] I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go to grad school or to industry. And I had two summers left before I graduated. I could spend one summer trying to do research, or something grad schoolyish, and I could spend one summer in industry. And that would help me make up my mind. Because then I could say, "This is what academia's like. And this is what industry is like. Which do you like better?" You have to make an informed decision.
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Students who were already planning on attending graduate school viewed the DMP as an opportunity for professional development

Some students entered into the DMP seriously committed to pursuing graduate studies. Many of these students hoped to, through their experience with the DMP, narrow their interests down to a specific topic in CS&E.

Well, right now my concern for being in this program is trying to figure out what to do, what to go into graduate school with. That's my only real concern. I've had a real broad understanding up until now of what to take, and what classes there are and things, and what you do in the different fields. ... I really want to cement on something.
Other students wanted to use their experience in the DMP as a way to build up their credentials to be accepted into one of the leading institutions in CS&E.

My big goal, no matter what program I did this summer, was I wanted to do "real" research -- [get] involved [in] research with something that was already ongoing. Which would be something real that I could hand to a graduate school and say, "Here, this is what I've done. This is what I'm capable of doing. You want to take me." Because I come from a no-name school, I have good GPAs, my test scores are going to be okay. ... And so I wanted to be able to say, "This is the kind of thing I can do. And I'm sort of already tried and true. And I should be a good pick for you."
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What did you expect to get out of your experience?

R: I expected to get out of my experience connections to go to grad school and experience and research and just general experience that I could put on my resume and it would look good.

I: What do you mean connections to go to grad school?

R: Well, everyone has always said that in order to get into one of the best grad schools, you should know a professor there, a professor that during the application process would say, "Oh yes. We'd like to have this person come to our school."

Evaluator Point of View

The fact that many of these students are viewing their experience in the DMP as a way to "try academic CS&E on for size" in order to make future career decisions demonstrates that the students selected to participate in the DMP are utilizing the program in accordance with its goal of encouraging undergraduate women to consider and pursue graduate studies in CS&E.

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