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Developing the research identities and aspirations of first‐generation college students: Evidence from the McNair scholars program

Julie Renee Posselt (Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA)
Kim R. Black (Office of the Provost, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado, USA)

International Journal for Researcher Development

ISSN: 2048-8696

Article publication date: 18 May 2012




Undergraduate research experiences are associated with higher post‐baccalaureate enrolment rates for first‐generation students, but scholars have yet to develop explanations for why this is the case. This paper aims to examine the experience of first‐generation undergraduate students.


Using case study methodology informed by grounded theory analytic methods, the authors qualitatively examine the experience of undergraduate research for ten first‐generation undergraduate students in the Ronald E. McNair Post‐baccalaureate Achievement Program, a faculty diversity programme funded by the US federal government located on almost 200 colleges and universities.


Students describe a recursive growth process that involved the acquisition of concrete skills, support from a cohort of their peers, mentoring relationships, and positive external recognition. By socialising them to forms of social and cultural capital that are valued in the academy, the programme cultivates the research identities and aspirations of participants. Students themselves develop a secondary habitus as well as a desire to challenge prevailing scholarly norms through their research aims and topics. Findings help refine Bourdieu's theory of reproduction in education and society for the context of American graduate education, for as students come to see themselves differently, they also see their futures differently and enrol in graduate education at higher rates than the national average.


This research is the first to examine how first generation students uniquely benefit from undergraduate research experiences.



Renee Posselt, J. and Black, K.R. (2012), "Developing the research identities and aspirations of first‐generation college students: Evidence from the McNair scholars program", International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 26-48.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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