Graduate Students` Multiple Identities

Graduate Students’
Multiple Identities:
How can I be me and be a scientist?
Minh Tran
Felisha Herrera
Josephine Gasiewski
Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA
NARST 2010 – Orlando, FL
Science & Social Identity Conflict
• Socialization into STEM requires students to assimilate into
the narrow, exclusive, and objective disciplinary culture.
• URMs experience tension because they must detach their
racial identity from their identity as developing scientists.
“The reason I sometimes resist the label of a scientist is because that label comes a
certain perspective that if I can’t observe it, then it doesn’t exist.The problem with
science is that it’s only as good as the information you’re taking in, which is always
limited.That leads to the interpretation that they’re not physicists because they can’t
cut it. Because there’s so few people in the discipline who are Black, Hispanic, Native
American, I guess, that makes a presumption of ignorance until proven that you’re
competent. – Brody (African American Male, Physics Major, PWI)
Science Identity Development Model
Science Identity
• Internal/External Recognition, Performance &Societal
Competence (Carlone & Johnson,Family/Community
• Validation of cultural capital & recognition from nonscience friends/ family (Rendon, 1994)
Multiple Contexts
Immigration Status
Adapted from:
Jones & McEwen (2000)
Science Context
• Interactions with
faculty/peers in
disciplinary culture
Science Identity & Social Identity
• Science identity – External and internal recognition
• Social identity – gender, race/ethnicity, sexual
orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status,
religion/spirituality, and mental and physical ability.
“I think I became interested in science just as a way to understand my
surroundings. I grew up on an Indian reservation so I saw a lot of death
and a lot of disease and things like that going on when I was growing up.
My interest was, like I said, was to understand my environment and try to
get a feel for the underlying causes of the things I was seeing.”
- Landon (American Indian Male, Molecular Biology)
Research Questions
How do students’ multiple social identities interact
with and develop alongside their emerging science
1. How do graduate students experience conflict
and/or convergence between their social Identities
and emerging science identities?
2. How do these students negotiate conflict between
social identities and science identities?
•December 2009 to April 2010
• 60 hours of semi-structured focus group interviews
• 7 universities across US
• 3 PWIs, 3 HSIs, 1 HBCU
• 132 masters/doctoral students
• 46% Women
• 64% Men
• 8.4% Multi-Racial
• Avg. age 27.5
(range of 21-53 years old)
• 2nd year Ph.D. student in biology
at an HBCU
• 4th year Ph.D. student in
bioinformatics at a PWI
• African American Woman
• American Indian Man
• 31 years old
• 32 years old
• B.S. in biology at an HBCU
• B.S. in computer science at a PWI
• M.S. in genetics at a PWI
• Mother graduated from high school,
while father has a graduate degree
• Parents are college educated
• Worked for 3 years at NSF
• Worked in a lab for 3 years
conducting malaria research
• Identity Convergence
• Identity Conflict
• Agency/Negotiation Strategies
• My family is very supportive and interested in all of those things.
My brother is an electrical engineer… my uncle is an engineer. So,
it's kind of like it wasn't anything new for me to become an
engineer. – Chloe (African American Female, Chemical Engineering
Major, PWI)
• “So now it’s starting to creep in a little bit more. I’m starting to
maybe see myself that way, especially now that I’m applying for
jobs…‘Ethnicity’ – Hispanic. I never felt like different or minority–
especially here because there’s so many of us. But if I’m looking to
get a job somewhere else, then that does become a factor. –
Brianna (Latina, Industrial Engineering Major, HSI)
Identity Conflict
• I would talk to my professors about things, like Black history. Like “Don't
skip over that page about Ernest Everett Just in the book. That's in the
book. Let's read about this. I want to know. ” I know they didn't because
that doesn't necessarily intrigue the students at Iowa like it intrigues me,
but why can't other students know about what he did? – Kaelyn
• I was always reminded by people that there just aren’t a lot of Indians in
science and math, so it’s important to follow that. I was recruited by a
minority recruitment person, so when I got here the woman asked if I
could help recruit more students. My advisor wouldn’t let me, so I told
her I can’t do that. That put this tension between me and my advisor,
who eventually cut my funding. – Carson
Wearing Multiple Hats
• “I feel like I’m two different people when I’m at home and when I’m
here at graduate school.” – Julia (Black Female, Genetics)
• “So I do think they interact all the time, but I think being in science
and even as a student with an identity, I think they just blend. I think
sometimes putting on your hat at this certain place is okay. Okay,
now I have to [put on another hat because] now I’m with this group.”
- Benjamin (Latino, Industrial Engineering)
Making Science More Accessible
• “My family definitely cares.You’ve got to bring them along, explain the
whole process of science and basically start at square one.” - Eric
(Latino, Ecology)
• “One of my goals in getting a PhD is to develop a language to talk
to people that don’t understand science – I want science to be
more accessible so that people aren’t afraid of it. If I’m in the
American Indian community, I always say diabetes because it’s one
of the biggest things. So that’ll catch somebody’s ear and maybe
they’ll be more interested. I have this story that I’ve made up
where instead of talking about proteins I talk about zombies and
that the misfolded proteins are zombies and they’re affecting
people that are coming into the city. That’s a fun way for me to
talk about what I do and people’s eyes don’t glaze over.” - Carson
Redefining Science
• “I did research with a Latina physician, who opened my eyes to a
population-based approach to health as opposed to a one-on-one
individual approach. I enjoyed her approach to problems that I sort of
grew up with on the border in terms of environmental health conditions.
That's what inspired me in graduate school.” – Jackson (Latino, Public
• “One aspect of my identity is to help those young Black girls like me, that
didn't know what they wanted to do. When we talk to undergraduates, I
say, “Have you ever thought about graduate school?” If you've never done
research, you might not even know that you’re interested. That's where the
identity comes in, standing here as a Black woman for those who might
not even know about this career path. – Kaelyn
Identity Convergence
Identity Conflict
Early dispositions towards math and science
Family members who were also scientists
Structural diversity at institutions/STEM departments
Underrepresentation in STEM
Lacked cultural inclusiveness and relevance in STEM
Divergence between social identities and science identity
Negotiation Strategies to Reconcile Identity Conflicts
Wearing different hats within multiple contexts
Simplifying science: Making science accessible
Redefining science in terms of community & justice
Conclusion and Implications
Future research studies should seek to:
•Understand agency, or how students position themselves
to succeed and persist in STEM
•Examine how faculty and peers can recognize and validate,
the unique perspectives students contribute to science.
•Identify institutional factors, such as educational practices,
programs, and supportive contexts that have been effective
at improving persistence by assisting students to negotiate
identity conflicts
Contact Information
Faculty and Co-PIs:
Sylvia Hurtado
Mitchell Chang
Postdoctoral Scholars:
Kevin Eagan
Josephine Gasiewski
Graduate Research Assistants:
Christopher Newman
Monica Lin
Minh Tran
Gina Garcia
Jessica Sharkness
Felisha Herrera
Administrative Staff:
Aaron Pearl
Cindy Mosqueda
Juan Garibay
Tanya Figueroa
Papers and reports are available for download at:
Project e-mail:
Acknowledgments: This study was made possible by the support of the National Institute of General
Medical Sciences, NIH Grant Numbers 1 R01 GMO71968-01 and R01 GMO71968-05 as well
as the National Science Foundation, NSF Grant Number 0757076. This independent research
and the views expressed here do not indicate endorsement by the sponsors.