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Beyond preparation: Identity, cultural capital, and readiness for graduate school in the biomedical sciences

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Abstract

In this study, we conducted in-depth interviews with 52 college graduates as they entered a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). Our goal was to investigate what it means for these aspiring scientists, most of whom are from groups underrepresented in the sciences, to feel ready to apply to a doctoral program in the biomedical sciences. For our analysis, we developed and used a theoretical framework which integrates concepts from identity-in-practice literature with Bourdieu's formulation of cultural capital and also examined the impact of racial, ethnic, and gender identities on education and career trajectories. Five patterns of identity work for expected engagement with PREP grew out of our analysis: Credential Seekers, PI Aspirants, Path Builders, Discipline Changers, and Interest Testers. These patterns illuminate differences in perceptions of doing, being, and becoming within science; external and internal foci of identity work; and expectations for institutional and embodied cultural capital. Our findings show that preparing for graduate education is more complex than acquiring a set of credentials as it is infused with identity work which facilitates readiness beyond preparation. This deeper understanding of individual agency and perceptions allows us to shift the focus away from a deficit model where institutions and programs attempt to “fix” students, and to offer implications for programs designed to support college graduates aspiring to become scientists. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 51: 1021–1048, 2014

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