Preparing for the "real world" of engineering
March 10, 2011
How prepared are OSU engineering students for the "real world"? When ECS asks this question of our employers at the end of each quarter, we are looking to uncover ways that our students can become stronger candidates overall. Last year, engineering co-op and internship employers made the following suggestions to our students, based on student performance:
Understand the business, financial and statistical considerations that affect the professional engineering practice. Engineering-related decisions are not made based upon the laws of math and physics alone. Project managers must consider situations from various angles - for example, how do profitability and loss factor into a project? Statistics are also essential for engineers. Such things as risk assessment, probability, and cost analysis are essential for making smart choices. Consider courses that incorporate this aspect into their curriculum. Think about joining student organizations such as Society of Business and Engineering (SoBE). Start reading publications in engineering and/or business. Don't forget to brush up on your usage of Excel, too!
Be ready to work in cross-disciplinary teams. You've heard that teamwork is important, but what you might not know is that you've got to be ready to work with both engineers AND non-engineers as well. Projects are usually never isolated to one department or unit, but require communication across lines of business. Cross-disciplinary teams are the norm in the "real-world." Think about student organizations or project teams (both inside and outside of engineering) that require collaboration with individuals from different backgrounds.
Develop stronger written communication skills, especially in the area of technical writing. It's a myth that engineers are exempt from writing - quite the contrary! Engineers need effective communication skills just as much as other professionals. Take your documentation and lab reporting seriously. If possible, get help from the Technical Communications Resource Center within the Engineering Education Innovation Center.
Understand the profession! It's not enough to like math and science - you've got to know what it is that engineers actually do on a day-to-day basis. Think about the Job Shadow Program, information sessions, or engineering career fairs as ways to start examining the field in greater detail.
Understand contemporary issues and the impact of those issues on engineering work. The financial crisis, oil spills, energy shortages, or even war/political unrest all help to shape the landscape of engineering. Know what's happening in the world right now, and understand how it affects the engineer's place within it.
Be ready to show your ability to solve unstructured or "messy" problems in the real-world. Not every problem has a clear-cut solution, even those in engineering. Get used to dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty. How you react to these situations can tell an employer a lot about your potential to survive - and thrive - in an uncertain world.
Work on your oral presentation skills. You've been hearing about this important requirement since junior high school. Need I say more about this topic?
"Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice."
Authored by Rachel Ligman.