Cultivating Social Capital in Undergraduate Research: Key Sources and Distinctions by Gender

Heather Ann Daniels, University of Texas at El Paso


Women are outpacing men in overall educational attainment, however this is not the case in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields when women fall behind men. Establishing strong social connections is important to retention in STEM fields and persistence in the STEM pipeline. This study qualitatively examines what serves as social capital in STEM-focused undergraduate research and how social capital is accrued and deployed differently by men and women in ways that could be contributing to the gender gap in STEM. 17 students participating in external summer research programs at 12 different universities were interviewed at 3 points in time. Results revealed that formal faculty research mentors, roommates, and research team members serve as social capital for students by being listed as references, building professional vocabularies, enhancing students technical and conceptual skills in their fields, and cultivating the students’ science identity. Gendered differences arose when examining how students coped with research independence, the amount of psycho-social mentoring they received, and the importance of gender concordance with their mentors. Specifically, men students’ engagement in masculine strategizing that embraces research independence in the research training environment without much psycho-social mentoring, and in frequent informal interactions, may be benefiting men in undergraduate research and STEM overall. Gender concordance with mentors provided an advantage for women, even if they adopted non-masculine strategies. Considering gender concordance in the matching strategy prior to the summer research experience may improve student experiences. Furthermore, workshops that emphasize the importance of building social capital for women and men mentees can inform and motivate students to develop strong connections even during short summer experiences.

Subject Area

Sociology|Gender studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Daniels, Heather Ann, "Cultivating Social Capital in Undergraduate Research: Key Sources and Distinctions by Gender" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10284267.