Background. There are long-held concerns about how graduate research programs prepare engineering Ph.D. students for professional practice. Suitable instruments are lacking to effectively assess how research experiences contribute to the success of graduate students becoming professionals.

Purpose. The purpose of this work is to examine evidence of internal reliability and validity of using the Research Experiences Instrument (REI) scores as a measure of engineering Ph.D. students’ professional practice opportunities in their research experiences.

Method. REI was constructed using an ontological framework. REI was administered twice to engineering Ph.D. students, once to a single university (n = 236) and once to multi-universities (n = 215). Psychometric analyses were conducted related to validity and reliability evidence, including exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses, and group score comparisons between genders, race/ethnicity, and engineering disciplines.

Results. Results of both factor analyses aligned with the theoretical five-factor structure, with a second-order Opportunity factor. Mean scores were the same between women and men, and for three engineering disciplines, but significantly lower for racially/ethnically minoritized groups. Factor scores indicate that students often lack opportunities to engage with professionals, a likely cause of students’ professional practice struggles.

Conclusions. Evidence of validity has been provided to justify the use of REI to assess the unique research experiences of engineering Ph.D. students as these relate to preparedness for professional practice. REI scores can be used for gender and race/ethnicity comparisons and are generalizable across engineering disciplines. Where students’ REI scores show a lack of opportunities, remedial strategies can be implemented.


This is the accepted version of Holloway, E. A., Douglas, K. A., Radcliffe, D. F., & Oakes, W. C. (2022). Research experiences instrument: Validation evidence for an instrument to assess the research experiences of engineering PhD students' professional practice opportunities. Journal of Engineering Education, 111( 2), 420– 445. https://doi.org/10.1002/jee.20451


Professional practice, research experiences, assessment, engineering Ph.D. students

Date of this Version