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A Survey of Essential Skills for Ph.D. Engineers in Industry

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Professional Graduate Education and Industry

Tagged Divisions

College Industry Partnerships and Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.115.1 - 22.115.11



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Paper Authors

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Joy Watson University of South Carolina


Jed S. Lyons University of South Carolina

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Jed Lyons is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Faculty Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of South Carolina. His passion is engaging K-12 students, undergraduates, graduate students and faculty in inquiry- and design-oriented learning activities.

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A Survey of Essential Skills for Ph.D. Engineers in IndustryCurrently, less than 20% of engineering Ph.D. graduates hold tenure track positions within 4-6years of completing their degree. Most continue in work relevant to their training, such asindustry [1]. Looking to industry for guidance on how to better prepare engineering Ph.D.graduates can lead to more relevant degree programs that are valued by students and employers.The broad objective of this study is to determine the skills needed by engineering Ph.D.s inindustry and how well doctoral degree programs prepare graduates in these areas. This objectivewas accomplished by surveying over 100 Ph.D. engineers who work in industry.To develop the survey, a list of 33 skills Ph.D.s need in industry was created by reviewing jobsolicitations for industry positions requiring a Ph.D. The list of skills included technical skills,such as solving problems and designing experiments, and transferable skills (often referred to assoft skills) such as communication, teamwork and professional ethics. The first question on thesurvey listed the 33 potentially important skills. Participants were asked to rate the skill levelthat was essential for an entry-level Ph.D. engineer in their organization. A second surveyquestion again listed the 33 potentially important skills, and asked participants to indicate howtheir Ph.D. program prepared them for each skill. The survey also included open-endedquestions.Results indicate that learning and working independently, working in teams, written and oralcommunication, and solving problems are the most important skills for a Ph.D. engineer inindustry. Also found was that the essential skills for industry and the level of doctoralpreparation are, in general, positively correlated. However, the survey results indicate that thereare some skills for which the needed level of ability is not correlated with the level of preparationthat the graduates received. Results suggest that one of the most significant areas forimprovements in preparing doctoral students is related to teamwork. Meanwhile, the emphasisplaced by Ph.D. programs on writing peer reviewed papers could be reviewed. Results from thisstudy can be used to inform further alignment of engineering Ph.D. preparation with industryneeds.References[1] National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators. National Science Foundation: 2008; Vol. 1, 3-36.

Watson, J., & Lyons, J. S. (2011, June), A Survey of Essential Skills for Ph.D. Engineers in Industry Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17397

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