by Amy Brierley
As a psychology alumna and career coach with a soft spot for humanities and social sciences students, I have always thought that engineering students have it all (yes, maybe I’ve been a bit jealous). They possess the technical skills sought after in today’s job market. They have options. They are clear on what they want to do with their life. They are all but guaranteed to get a job.
Seven months ago, I transitioned to working exclusively with engineering students at Stanford. In my first few months of individual appointments with students, I was surprised to find that many of their questions have been the same as social sciences and humanities students: What do I want to do? Where will I fit? How do I compare with my peers? Will I get a job that will give me the future I hope for?
I recently led a five-part job search series entitled, Build Your Engineering Job-Search Toolkit. We created this series thinking that many of our engineering students knew what they wanted to do, but weren’t sure how to get there. However, in the first session, Designing Your Job Search, I asked, “how many of you know what you want to do?” I assumed I didn’t even need to ask this because everyone would know – but I was wrong. Of the 23 mostly masters’ students in the room, only a few raised their hands.
In the series, I hosted alumni speakers who shared their job-search experiences. They talked about their own uncertainties, and how they leaned on their mentors and their network to help them clarify their next steps and find opportunities. As I watched these alumni and students interact, I was reminded of the power of connections and mentoring in our work with students. I realized that these engineering students need models of what’s possible for them in the world of work.
How has my experience thus far changed my approach to engineering students? Instead of assuming that a computer science student wants to be a software engineer, or that a mechanical engineering student wants to work in aerospace, I maintain an open mind that they may not have a clue where they see themselves; they may be interested in a non-traditional track or they may want to do something altogether non-technical. I also don’t presuppose that engineering students only need tools for job searching, so I make it a point to ask powerful coaching questions in my meetings with them – even if it’s for a resume review; questions such as, “If in a year from now, life was great, what would it look and feel like?” or “If you had a magic wand, and you could have the internship you want, what would it look like?” Lastly, I recommend that these students reach out to mentors and alumni, and am planning future programs that foster these connections.
So, the next time you interact with an engineering student, remember that they might be feeling more uncertain about the future than you may think.
What has your experience been with engineering students? How are you helping them find what they want to do? I would love to hear!
Amy Brierley, Assistant Dean of Career Education & Associate Director for Career Communities – Engineering & Earth, Standford University