University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group


UMD PERG PhD Dissertations:
Gina Quan

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Becoming a physicist: How identities and practices shape physics trajectories

Gina Quan, Doctor of Philosophy, 2017

Dissertation directed by: Profs. Andrew Elby, College of Education, and Prof. Chandra Turpen, Dept. of Physics


This dissertation studies the relationships and processes which shape students' participation within the discipline of physics. Studying this early disciplinary participation gives insight to how students are supported in or pushed out of physics, which is an important step in cultivating a diverse set of physics students. This research occurs within two learning environments that we co-developed: a physics camp for high school girls and a seminar for undergraduate physics majors to get started in physics research. Using situated learning theory, we conceptualized physics learning to be intertwined with participation in physics practices and identity development. This theoretical perspective draws our attention to relationships between students and the physics community. Specifically, we study how students come to engage in the practices of the community and who they are within the physics community. We find that students' interactions with faculty and peers impacts the extent to which students engage in authentic physics practices. These interactions also impact the extent to which students develop identities as physicists. We present implications of these findings for the design of physics learning spaces. Understanding this process of how students become members of the physics community will provide valuable insights into fostering a diverse set of successful trajectories in physics.

Thesis in PDF format.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Theoretical perspective
  3. Tensions in the productivity of design task tinkering
  4. Interactions between disciplinary practices and joint work in undergraduate physics research experiences
  5. Analyzing Identity Trajectories Within the Physics Community
  6. Discussion


  1. Transcript notations
  2. Interview protocols
  3. Summer Girls data collection

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