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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  2. Physics is a degree that supports many career paths, and students often develop preferences for particular methods, such as theoretical, computational or experimental. However, it is not well understood how those preferences develop and affect students' later career decisions. We used Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) as the basis for interpreting students' decision-making processes. SCCT provides a framework for connecting learning experiences, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations with students' interests, goals, and decisions. Semi-structured interviews with 8 physics students were conducted. This analysis focuses primarily on a single student to provide space to explore all three method specializations (theory, computation, andmore »experiment) in more depth. We find that the availability of resources and learning opportunities had a significant impact on students' career choices. Theoretical and computational experiences were readily available through classwork, undergraduate research, and could be worked on at home and in peer study groups. Students lacked the ability to work on experimental physics outside of infrequent classroom opportunities and could not build peer networks that supported their experimental skill growth, which was linked to lower interest and self-efficacy in regards to experimental physics.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022
  3. In this project, we sought to uncover the cognitive processes and skills that are involved in completing a theoretical physics project. Theoretical physics is often portrayed as a field requiring individual genius and can seem inaccessible to undergraduate students, as well as the public. We drew upon the foundations of Cognitive Task Analysis and completed semi-structured interviews with eleven theoretical physics faculty members from several different research institutions who specialized in subfields including quantum optics, biophysics, computational astrophysics, and string theory. We analyzed the processes and skills of these physicists, focusing on an analysis of idea origin, which is typicallymore »the first cognitive process within a project, and how it was connected to collaboration and motivation. We used concept maps to organize these codes and portray the factors that influence the creation of project ideas. We found that motivation and collaboration are fundamental determinants of project ideas and their origins, which contradicts the "lone genius" stereotype. These findings on cognitive processes and skills can help us understand how to better prepare students to do theoretical physics research. Finally, the information gathered during this project may be useful for improving the public understanding of theoretical physics, dispelling the belief that the field requires "genius," and making it accessible to more students.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022
  4. Due to the growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities either canceled or remotely hosted their 2020 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. This analysis is part of a larger study examining the impact of these fully remote experiences on professional and psychosocial factors such as mentees' sense of belonging, identity, and self-efficacy and their retention in STEM degree programs. We present a single-student case study and describe the dramaturgical analysis which centers on identifying five fundamental constructs within the data: objectives, conflicts, tactics, attitudes, and emotions. These items investigate what the participant in themore »remote REU program experienced and how this experience changed the ways in which he thinks about his future career decision-making. Our analysis explored four different sub-narratives: lack of community in virtual REU, mentor support, perception of the "real" nature of the experience in a virtual format, and future career decision-making. The mentee reported that this experience was highly beneficial and that he developed a sense of belonging and identity, despite working remotely -- often from his own bedroom.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 10, 2022