New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Educational Research and Methods
This research paper describes findings from a qualitative analysis of engineering students’ self-reported future career plans on the 2015 Engineering Majors Survey (EMS). This work builds on the Pathways of Engineering Alumni Research Survey (PEARS), which was administered in 2012 to recent engineering alumni; PEARS sought to identify the educational and workplace factors that influenced engineering graduates’ career decision-making. With the open-ended responses on the EMS, we can develop a deeper understanding of students’ plans in their own words, providing insights into how they think about their careers and why they want to go down a particular career path. The primary research questions include:
1. What are the different ways students think about their future plans? 2. What are the motivations that drive students? 3. Are there substantive differences between how men and women think about their futures?
The EMS was designed to examine current engineering students’ career goals, especially surrounding innovative work, and is based in the theoretical framework of Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). The survey was sent to engineering juniors and seniors at 27 schools in the spring of 2015; a total of 7,197 students participated. Included on the questionnaire was the open-ended question, “We have asked a number of questions about your future plans. If you would like to elaborate on what you are planning to do, in the next five years or beyond, please do so here”, which elicited 1,848 responses. Responses were varied, and were coded by emergent themes. Twelve main emergent themes were identified; examples include whether or not they intended to stay in engineering after graduation, mention of the industry they intended or would like to go into, and explanation of their motivations.
Findings point to three main ways that students think about their career plans: by identifying a specific company they want to work for, by identifying a specific industry they want to work for, and by seeking a job with a certain trait. Students’ motivations included wanting to help people, a desire to combine engineering with another field, an inherent love of doing engineering, and doing engineering as a means to a secure future. Some motivations varied by gender: men were more likely to discuss a desire to travel, while women more often considered child-bearing and family factors in their career plans.
These findings have several implications for educational research and practice in engineering. Understanding more about students’ motivations helps researchers and practitioners to think more comprehensively about the persistence of different students in engineering post-graduation, as many people who plan to leave engineering are doing it for reasons such as medical school, starting a family, working for a non-profit, or becoming a teacher - it is not because they do not enjoy engineering. These insights also can help engineering educators at all levels as they strive to make content relevant and meaningful to their students. Finally, this information can lead to recommendations for future survey questions that more fully capture the range of students’ actual perceptions, worries, hopes, and plans about their futures.
Grau, M. M., & Gilmartin, S. K., & Rieken, B., & Sheppard, S. (2016, June), What Do You Want to Do with Your Life? Insights into how Engineering Students Think about their Future Career Plans Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27190
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