Exploring the prototypical definitions of intelligent engineers held by Irish and Swedish higher education engineering students
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Males are generally overrepresented in higher education engineering. However, the magnitude of this variance differs between countries and engineering fields. Evidence associated with the field-specific ability beliefs hypothesis suggests that perceptions of intelligence held by actors within engineering affects the engagement of underrepresented groups. This study examined perceptions of an intelligent engineer held by undergraduate and postgraduate engineering students in Ireland and Sweden, countries selected based on their levels of female representation in engineering education. It was hypothesised that there would be a significant difference in perceptions between countries. A survey methodology was employed in which a random sample of Irish and Swedish university students completed two surveys. The first asked respondents to list characteristics of an intelligent engineer, and the second asked for ratings of importance for each unique characteristic. The results indicate that an intelligent engineer was perceived to be described by seven factors; practical problem solving, conscientiousness, drive, discipline knowledge, reasoning, negative attributes, and inquisitiveness when the data was analysed collectively, but only the five factors of practical problem solving, conscientiousness, drive, discipline knowledge and negative attributes were theoretically interpretable when the data from each country was analysed independently. A gender country interaction effect was observed for each of these five factors. The results suggest that the factors which denote intelligence in engineering between Irish and Swedish males and females are similar, but differences exist in terms of how important these factors are in terms group level definitions. Future work should consider the selfconcepts held by underrepresented groups with respect to engineering relative to the factors observed in this study.
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