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Not All the Same: A Look at Early Career Engineers Employed in Different Sub-Occupations

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

CIP Technical Session

Tagged Division

College Industry Partnerships

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.930.1 - 23.930.27



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Paper Authors


Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Stanford University

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Samantha Brunhaver is a fifth year graduate student at Stanford University. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in engineering education. Samantha completed a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University in 2008 and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Design for Manufacturing from Stanford in 2010.

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Shannon Katherine Gilmartin Stanford University Orcid 16x16


Michelle Marie Grau Stanford University

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Michelle Grau is a senior studying mechanical engineering and doing research in engineering education—the perfect combination of her interests.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Dr. Sheri Sheppard is in the Design Group of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. Besides teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on structural analysis and design, she serves an administrative role as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education. Her research focuses on the study of educational and career pathways of people interested in technical work (and how to make K-20 education more supportive of these pathways).

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Helen L. Chen Stanford University

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Not All the Same: A Look at Early Career Engineers Employed in Different Sub-OccupationsIn recent years, the preparation of engineering students for professional practice has featuredprominently in the engineering education literature. Organizations such as the National Academyof Engineering and ABET have even published lists of skills and characteristics required bygraduates to succeed. What many studies fail to address, however, are the varying experiences ofearly career engineers employed in different sub-occupations. While most engineering graduatesgo on to become practitioners, some are promoted to or begin their careers in engineeringmanagement, others choose careers as consultants, and still others pursue other engineeringoptions. This paper aims to better understand differences among these groups by comparing theirdemographic characteristics, their professional and academic milestones, the skills andknowledge important to their work, and their perceptions of their careers and selves.Participants for this study come from a survey of engineering bachelor’s graduates who earnedtheir degrees from four U.S. institutions in 2007. Sponsored by the NSF and deployed in autumnof 2011, the survey received 484 complete responses, representing 26 percent of the mail-outsample and 19 percent of all 2007 engineering bachelor’s graduates across the four schools. Priorto analysis, the sample was weighted for varying sampling rates at the institutional level andnonresponse bias at the individual level; the weights were then adjusted to retain the initialsample size.Occupational lists on the survey were constructed based on categories in the U.S. Bureau ofLabor Statistics 2010 Standard Occupational Classification system, with some exceptions,including the addition of eight engineering sub-occupations. Four years past graduation, 64percent of all respondents indicated being employed in engineering. These respondents wereseparated into four groups: practitioners (49%), consultants (16%), managers (11%), and otherengineering sub-occupations, including teaching and research (24%).Respondents in these four groups were compared on survey measures related to demographics,milestones, skills, and self-perceptions using Pearson’s chi-square tests and Kruskal-Wallis one-way ANOVA tests due to non-normality in the distribution of responses. Significant main effectswere followed up with post hoc Fisher’s exact tests and Mann-Whitney U tests, respectively.Results show several differences, particularly in graduates’ self-perceptions and workcharacteristics, with practitioners and consultants often differing significantly from eithermanagers or all other engineers. For instance, greater proportions of practitioners and consultantsassociate their jobs, professional paths, and identities with engineering. Practitioners andconsultants are also more likely to rely on engineering tools and techniques in their work and lesslikely to use business knowledge, communication skills, or leadership skills.The findings suggest that different engineering sub-occupations require different skills, whichmay in turn affect how employees view themselves and their careers. Identification of thesedifferences can enable new thinking about which skills to emphasize in undergraduateengineering programs, through core courses, electives, and/or extracurricular activities. Thefindings can also help provide a wider range of engineering “images” to share with students; inother words, their engineering background can lead in a variety of directions.

Brunhaver, S. R., & Gilmartin, S. K., & Grau, M. M., & Sheppard, S., & Chen, H. L. (2013, June), Not All the Same: A Look at Early Career Engineers Employed in Different Sub-Occupations Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22315

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