Over the course of your career, your professional development will continue to involve personal growth as you adjust to a wide variety of experiences. Your career development as an engineer will depend on your ability to stay up to date on the new technologies and skill sets required in the rapidly changing workplace. You will have opportunities to do this through further formal education as well as distance learning and employer-provided training.
Thoughtful consideration of the knowledge and skills that your field demands and your own interests, values, and goals, as described in Part One, is essential but it will not be enough. You must also consider the needs, goals, values, and culture of the organizations in which you consider working. Is there a good “fit” between you and these organizations? Many times you will not be sure, but an assessment can result in new and exciting opportunities that you might not have ever considered.
Because you have chosen a field that has demanded a lot of you academically and personally, you can now follow many avenues to enhance your personal and professional growth. However, keep in mind that your employer is only responsible for your growth and development to the extent that it benefits the organizational goals. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own professional growth and development. This does not mean that your goals can supersede those of the organization for which you work. It means that you have a responsibility to find an employer, or opportunities within a workplace, where the goals, values, and culture are compatible with your style of working, interacting, and learning.
Part Two of this book presents various career paths available to engineers. Each represents a different way in which you can attain your personal career goal. The characteristics and demands of each path will help you identify options that appear to be a best fit for you. With more research and exploration, you will have a better basis for identifying the path that is best for you. Your most desirable path can help form the basis for your career plan, and a career plan will give your personal goals credibility and your job search focus.
If you are just beginning your career in engineering as a freshman or sophomore, explore one or two of these career paths more in depth during your undergraduate experience. Reading about them will not be enough. Talking to professional engineers will be helpful, but a word of caution. Input of this nature is subjective, not fact. To really evaluate whether the information you have gathered is correct for you, get out in the field and try out your initial decisions through faculty research, summer internships, and/or alternating cooperative education (co-op) experience. The process of experiencing the nature of the work will help you find your niche. In addition, this experience will be highly valued when you begin applying for your first permanent position or seeking admission to graduate school.
In the field of engineering, there are many opportunities to do these things. Involvement in faculty research, for example, is an excellent way to evaluate an academic career path. Summer jobs and internships can be helpful too. While industry typically thinks of internships for students between their junior and senior year, those students who will graduate in the following academic year, there are usually many opportunities for summer jobs that will provide a brief but valuable exposure to an industry or an area in your engineering discipline where you feel you may have an interest.
In addition, you should be aware that co-op is a very well-known, and widely respected, means of assimilation into the field of engineering. Since 1906, co-op has been the means by which hundreds of thousands of engineers have tested their initial decision in the real world and gone on to pursue rewarding careers in business, industry, government, and academia. Unlike humanities internships—which consist of one term on a special project— traditional co-op students alternate periods of paid employment in engineering with periods of academic study. They usually return to the same
co-op employer over time. This process allows them to become part of the mainstream of an engineering team in their organization well before graduation. They not only further develop their technical skills but also enhance their sense of professional judgment and awareness about aspects of their field that they like or dislike.
Co-op is not unlike taking a college course while in high school. That experience provides high school students with a chance to “see what it’s like” in college before they actually get there. Co-op does the same thing for under graduate engineering students. It provides an opportunity to “see what it’s like” in business, industry, or government. You may find your niche in one of these areas or learn early in your career experience that this is not the best fit for you. Learning that during your undergraduate experience and having time to alter your goals and direction is much better than coming to this realization after investing four years in undergraduate study and several years in a job you find that you do not enjoy!