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Gendered patterns in first-year engineering students’ career aspirations and expectations

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division (WIED) Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering Division (WIED)

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Paper Authors


Catherine MacKenzie Campbell University of Toronto, Canada

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MacKenzie Campbell is a MASc student in Chemical Engineering specializing in Engineering Education. Her thesis is exploring how the quality of work-integrated learning experiences shape women engineers' career intentions, with a focus on intersectionality and diverse engineering fields including emerging and non-traditional areas of practice. MacKenzie has an undergraduate engineering degree in Biomedical Systems Engineering, where her research focused on high-intensity focused ultrasound.

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Andrea Chan University of Toronto, Canada

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Andrea Chan is a Research Associate at the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering | University of Toronto

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Jessica J. Li, P.E. University of Toronto, Canada

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Jessica is a Professional Engineer currently pursuing her PhD in Industrial Engineering with the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto. Jessica's research explores how professional services organizations can support or hinder leadership development in their staff.

Jessica holds a Bachelor's of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto and previously worked as an engineering consultant in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries for eight years. Jessica's experience leading multidisciplinary teams strengthened her perspective that the ability to empathize, communicate and collaborate are integral to success in engineering.

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Philip Asare University of Toronto, Canada


Emily Moore University of Toronto, Canada

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Emily Moore is the Director of the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (Troost ILead) at the University of Toronto. Emily spent 20 years as a professional engineer, first as an R&D engineer in a Fortune 500 company, and then leading

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Despite making gains in representation in undergraduate engineering, women are still consistently underrepresented among licensed engineers. Using mixed-methods, this paper investigates the career aspirations and expectations of first-year engineering students who have opted into a work-integrated learning program but have not yet participated in a work term. Our preliminary findings suggest that there is a mismatch between students’ (particularly women’s) aspirations to be part of the engineering profession and the sectors in which they are interested in working, which typically offer more difficult pathways toward licensure. This raises the question of whether our system of professionalization is setting up students to fail to achieve their goals.

This study involved secondary use of data from a survey administered by the engineering career centre at a public, urban university. The sample (N=1,275), representing the majority of the first-year class, comprised 38% women and 62% men. The questionnaire examined students’ confidence in professional skills, their career interests, values, strengths, and weaknesses. In addition to descriptive statistics, Chi-square tests of association were conducted to determine if there were relationships between demographics and variables of interest. Open-ended questions were explored using qualitative thematic analysis.

Students expressed strong interest in becoming licensed Professional Engineers, with 78% agreeing that they will pursue licensure, with no significant difference between women and men. This is surprising given the underrepresentation of women among new Professional Engineers each year. We found that women were significantly more likely than men to express interest in less traditional engineering industries (e.g., IT, banking, government administration) where the path to licensure is unclear. Students elaborated on the reasons for their industry interests in an open-ended question, which will be further explored through thematic analysis and along gender lines for the final paper.

Implications for engineering educators include the importance of providing students of all genders with information about diverse engineering sectors and the meaning and process of professional licensure. Finally, this study contributes to the broader discussion of diversity in engineering by raising questions around our emphasis on retention in work that fits the traditional, licensable engineering mold and how as educators we might break the mold to recognize the diversity of career paths for engineering graduates.

Campbell, C. M., & Chan, A., & Li,, J. J., & Asare, P., & Moore, E. (2023, June), Gendered patterns in first-year engineering students’ career aspirations and expectations Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43784

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