Engineering and Physics Faculty Research and Publications

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Journal of Engineering Education

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Although prior research has provided robust descriptions of engineering students' identity development, a gap in the literature exists related to students' emotional experiences of shame, which undergird the socially constructed expectations of their professional formation.


We examined the lived experiences of professional shame among White male engineering students in the United States. We conceptualize professional shame to be a painful emotional state that occurs when one perceives they have failed to meet socially constructed expectations or standards that are relevant to their identity in a professional domain.


We conducted unstructured interviews with nine White male engineering students from both a research‐focused institution and a teaching‐focused institution. We used interpretative phenomenological analysis to examine the interview transcripts.


The findings demonstrated four themes related to how participants experienced professional shame. First, they negotiated their global, or holistic, identities in the engineering domain. Second, they experienced threats to their identities within professional contexts. Third, participants responded to threats in ways that gave prominence to the standards they perceived themselves to have failed. Finally, they repaired their identities through reframing shame experiences and seeking social connection.


The findings demonstrate that the professional shame phenomenon is interwoven with professional identity development. In experiencing professional shame, White male students might reproduce the shame experience for themselves and others. This finding has important implications for the standards against which members from underrepresented groups may compare themselves and provides insight into the social construction of engineering cultures by dominant groups.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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