Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor's Name

Dr. Zahra Hazari

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Dr. Asia Eaton

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Dr. Norma M. Goonen

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Dr. Thomas G. Reio, Jr.

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Undergraduate, Higher Education, Gender, Women, Physics Majors, Physics Identity, Science Education, STEM, Mixed Methods, Phenomenography

Date of Defense



Persistent gender disparity limits the available contributors to advancing some science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. While higher education can be an influential time-point for ensuring adequate participation, many physics programs across the U.S. have few women in classroom or lab settings. Prior research indicates that these women face considerable barriers. For university students, faculty, and administration to appropriately address these issues, it is important to understand the experiences of women as they navigate male-dominated STEM fields.

This explanatory sequential mixed methods study explored undergraduate female physics majors’ experiences with their male-dominated academic and research spaces in the U.S. The conceptual framework consisted of physics identity, gender role congruity, assumptions about the “ideal” scientist, and self-reported plans to persist in the field (measured by bachelor’s degree completion, graduate school plans, and physics-related career plans). Utilizing the American Physical Society (APS) 2016 Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) pre-conference survey data, responses from 900 females were analyzed using regressions followed by 18 semi-structured interviews with CUWiP sample participants.

Physics identity was highly predictive of participants’ self-reported persistence plans. A factor analysis revealed that gender role congruity is comprised of three distinct social roles: extrinsic agentic (e.g., power, financial rewards, status), intrinsic agentic (e.g., self-direction, demonstrating skills, independence), and communal (e.g., working with people, helping others). Intrinsic agency was highly correlated with physics identity and long-term persistence (graduate school and career), and communal roles were negatively correlated with students’ short-term persistence (undergraduate physics degree completion). Extrinsic agency was correlated with neither identity nor persistence.

The 18 interviews were phenomenographically analyzed revealing that participants experience relationships with the conceptual framework in five qualitatively different ways, called categories of experience. These categories are: The Assured, The Solitary, The Communal, The Reflective, and The Ambassadors. The categories elaborate on the quantitative results by providing nuanced explanations of how women negotiate aspects of their gender identity related to the conceptual framework.

The results provide a broad vantage point of women’s experiences as physics majors which may aid university faculty and administration with gender equity goals for physics and other male-dominated STEM fields.






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