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Autoethnography of a Researcher Doing Research Studying Undergraduate Researchers
This paper presents an autoethnographic exploration of an undergraduate engineering student simultaneously involved in both traditional engineering research and engineering education research. Additionally, the engineering education research focused on understanding undergraduate engineering students’ own research experiences through the lenses of epistemology and identity. In many ways, it is a meta level view of the topic of interest (an undergraduate student experiencing what it is to be a researcher while researching that very experience). The data used in this paper were collected as part of a larger, explanatory mixed-methods study focused on undergraduate students’ conceptualization of researcher identities and epistemic cognition. Undergraduate Research Experiences (UREs) are being studied in an attempt to improve learning and retention rates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at the undergraduate level. The purpose of this research is to meet the increased need for STEM graduates capable of working in the rapidly-changing engineering environment. In an ethnography, the researcher immerses him- or herself in a particular social situation for an extended period of time in order to understand how people in that particular social situation live. To do this research, I immersed myself in the social situation of participating in an undergraduate research experience. As an undergraduate researcher doing this research on undergraduate researchers, I am both the researcher and the subject of this research. Throughout my engineering URE, I journaled about my experience. Additionally, I answered the interview questions that I ask our participants in the larger engineering education research study. Using a grounded theory methodology, I then open-coded the journals and my responses to the interview questions and analyzed them in the same way that I have been analyzing other undergraduate students’ interview responses. Another member of my engineering education research team also analyzed my responses in the same manner, and the combination of both analyses will be discussed. In this paper, I will discuss my experiences both in engineering education research and in my traditional engineering research this summer. I will discuss what I have learned about undergraduate research experiences through my engineering education research, and how this makes me uniquely qualified to then analyze my own experience in a traditional engineering URE. I will thoroughly analyze my engineering URE and discuss the methods used to do so. Finally, I will discuss limitations associated with this analysis, which include my own bias and the biases of my research associates. I am able to take a unique perspective on this study and on my own experiences in an URE. This ethnography is about me and my own experience within undergraduate research; therefore, this is an autoethnography. This work can contribute to an understanding of UREs and their effect on student identity and epistemology beyond the findings of the larger project. I hope to provide a credible account of my experiences that is both rigorously analyzed and relatable.