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Undergraduate physics students' experiences: Exploring the impact of underrepresented identities and intersectionality

Dakota KeblbeckKatrina Piatek-JimenezCielo Medina Medina
Feb 2024
Historically, physics has been a predominantly male field, with previous literature showing there is little diversity amongst U.S. physics students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Recent research indicates that the lack of underrepresented minorities in physics is partially due to an unwelcoming climate within physics departments, as well as differential experiences during college. Most physics education research that addresses the lack of underrepresented identities within the field has focused on the identities of women and people of color. There has been little research to investigate people with multiple underrepresented identities, including those such as socioeconomic status, first-generation college students, or learning disabilities. Furthermore, there has been even less research conducted to better understand the impacts of the intersection of these underrepresented identities and how it relates to experiences when pursuing a physics major. To address this gap in the literature, our research has investigated undergraduate physics students' experiences, to better understand what factors affect their experiences and how these may differ by the intersection of one's underrepresented identities. To achieve this goal, we conducted a series of in-depth interviews with physics majors at one university to learn more about their college experiences regarding physics. Our findings suggest that there is a disproportionate number of obstacles when pursuing a physics major faced by those with a greater number of underrepresented identities. We conclude that there is a need for more equitable pedagogical practices and departmental policies within the undergraduate physics experience, in addition to, a more "human" approach to mentorship, in order to foster an environment in which students with underrepresented identities can feel supported and thrive academically and professionally.
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