Taking Your First Career Steps in . . . Science & Engineering

Taking Your First Career Steps in . . . Science & Engineering was originally published on College Recruiter.

Given today’s rapid rate of technological change and corporate transformations, it’s almost assured that your career will go through many changes as you make your way in the world. Top career consultants estimate that we will change careers seven times during the course of our lives. While you already may be thinking about majoring in science or engineering, you may not know about the diversity of career options available within these fields. To give you insight into the worlds of science and engineering, we asked several college administrators to give us their views.

Getting a good foundation
Society’s increased emphasis on technology has made an engineering education a valuable asset. “From a global standpoint, we have a shortage of people with technological and engineering backgrounds,” says Dr. Richard Heist, dean of Engineering at Manhattan College in New York City. He adds, “A career in engineering has remarkable potential, and it’s a particularly good time to be entering a great profession.”
Manhattan College offers its students a rigorous curriculum and a mentoring program that provides internships in the nearby city. “There is a great need for mechanical, civil, electrical, and environmental engineers in our geographic locale,” says Heist, “and our vast alumni network creates a wealth of opportunities for our graduates. I get calls every day asking if I can recommend someone for a particular job.”
Kathryn Provost, director of the Career Development Center at Norwich University in Vermont, notes that students applying to an engineering department might not know the kinds of opportunities available in the major. “There are all kinds of engineering disciplines–aerospace, chemical, structural, computer software, and industrial manufacturing,” she explains, “or you can combine engineering with another interest, either through additional classes or by going on to get an advanced degree.”
If you have the feeling that you might like engineering as a profession, talk with a career counselor or ask for an informational interview with someone working in the field. “Many students don’t consider engineering because they aren’t really sure if this is the kind of job they want,” explains Provost. To decide whether engineering is the right career path for you, don’t ruminate too much, she counsels. Instead, she suggests that you “ask, read, and seek help.”
While there are many traditional paths open to graduating engineers, their can-do problem-solving attitude often leads them in a new direction. Developing a solid background in a field you enjoy opens many doors, and engineers often go on to pursue careers in consulting, business, education, law, or medicine.
Look for opportunities, but develop your own goals
Many students considering a major in one of the sciences or in engineering assume that a traditional research position is in their future, and this will certainly be an option. The disciplines of science and engineering work on a model of apprenticeship, and there will be many opportunities for research assistantships with professors in your department, as well as others in institutes and programs nationwide. For example, NURO is a consortium of colleges and universities that provides research experiences for undergraduates in planetary science, astrogeology, stellar astrophysics, and extragalactic research (www.nuro.nau.edu). Of course, many students pursuing degrees in biology or physiology will want to go on to medical school. But research projects in genetics, biochemistry, and the relatively new field of bioinformatics may be of interest, too. If research is what intrigues you about a certain field, you will also want to set your sights on a graduate program to refine your skills and to develop your expertise.
While depth of knowledge in one field is a highly valued commodity, a diversity of skills is also desirable. In fact, some programs promote cross-disciplinary work or allow students to explore many applied options while still in school. The College of Applied Science and Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology helps students investigate how technology can benefit many environments and includes diverse classes in subjects such as civil engineering technology, food and nutrition management, and packaging science. RIT was one of the first universities to begin cooperative education, and more than 2,900 students gain real-world experience in the workplace through yearly co-op assignments.
Applied physics majors at Kettering University also have the opportunity to get a jump-start on their careers by alternating on-campus study with co-op work at one of more than 650 corporate affiliate companies. And students majoring in environmental science at Berry College take courses that address environmental issues from a variety of perspectives and follow up with internships, independent or cooperative research, or summer studies at research facilities to increase their understanding.
Although many opportunities may come your way, it is also important to conduct your own career search and discover the support systems and resources that are available. One excellent source of information is professional organizations. Below is a list of addresses, phone numbers, and websites of the national headquarters of four organizations you can contact for general information and local chapters:

  • American Mathematical Society, 201 Charles Street, Providence, RI 02904-2294, (800) 321-4AMS, www.ams.org
  • American Institute of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843, (301) 209-3100, www.aip.org/aiphome. html
  • American Society of Civil Engineers, 1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Reston, VA 20191-4400, (800) 548-2723, www.asce.org
  • American Society for Microbiology, 1752 N Street N.W., Washington, DC 20036, (202) 737-3600, www.asm.org

There are also many professional organizations with a particular community focus or emphasis, and most have special programs for students. The National Society of Black Engineers holds a special graduate school fair at their annual conference, and other professional organizations have campus chapters. At Marquette University, there is a chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. At Columbia University, there is a chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, as well as a chapter of the Asian American Society of Engineers.
Of course, another excellent source of information is the Internet, a resource you can use in a number of ways. Many university websites will post student thesis topics and resumés. Browsing through these will give you a good feel for what students are doing, both in their college courses and to develop their careers. Checking company websites for lists of employment opportunities can also give you a sense of what kinds of qualifications you might need for a particular job.
A variety of professional associations have developed Internet resources to help high school students find out more about their field of study. The Association of American Medical Colleges site (www.aamc.org/students/considering/ start.htm) explores various career options in the medical field and includes sections on financial planning and tips on what medical school admissions officers look for in an application. Similarly, the website for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (www.aza.org/ ForEveryone/Careers) describes careers in aquarium and zoo facilities that can be achieved through a course of study in the zoological or biological sciences. The National Society of Professional Engineers (www.nspe.org) has a student link that provides information on internships and scholarships. The site also recommends the types of classes you should take in high school, the scores you should strive for on the SAT, and the extracurricular activities that might help you in your future career.
There are many websites devoted to career and job searches, but because there are so many–and they change frequently–use one of the major search engines to do keyword searches, or log on to sites such as Monster (www.monster.com).
The challenge of lifelong career planning
It is important to remember that a career is something you build over time, and it is made up of many different kinds of jobs and skills. At any given time in your life, a variety of considerations will contribute to the job choices you make.

  • Do you want a big and competitive corporate environment that provides terrific benefits and on-the-job training so you can move up in management?
  • Do you want to work in a small, innovative start-up company, with a risk that you may be out of a job in a year if the product goes “belly up,” but the chance to make a great deal of money if the company does well?
  • Or are you interested in starting a family very soon and want to work for a friendly, stable company that prides itself on its maternity and paternity leave policies?

Of course, the most important consideration is that you enjoy your work, that you are challenged by the demands, and that you can continue to grow and develop.
If the first step in your career is a degree in science and engineering, many choices will be yours as you move forward to discover the world of work.

Profile: Andrew Summers
Mechanical engineering, John Brown University, 2009.

“I picked engineering because I’ve always enjoyed figuring out how things work,” says Andrew. “As a child, I took apart every toy I could find and they usually went back together.”

His first year of college, Andrew learned to balance his studies with extracurricular activities. “I’ve helped out with a youth ministry hosted on campus and participated in the Re-formed University Fellowship, but my main focus is my schoolwork.” Andrew hopes to get an internship in the automotive industry. “I’ve always wanted to design an electric car that is practical and appealing to consumers. That’s the job of the mechanical engineer: making products that are more practical, more efficient, and more marketable.”

For engineers, the schedule of study is fairly rigid, so Andrew is glad he en-tered college with 19 credit hours of AP coursework. “AP and dual-credit classes are well worth it,” advises Andrew. “Having some breathing room gets rid of some of the stress and gives you freedom to take other classes that interest you. You can also pick up a minor or two, and that is a serious advantage coming straight out of school.”


Profile: Emily Finnessy
Mechanical Engineering, University of Denver 2006.

Emily put aside her dream of becoming and astronaut when she developed severe motion sickness, but she has set other demanding and equally far-reaching goals. “I ultimately want to work in management for a program that contributes to people going into space or space exploration.”

During her college years, Emily contributed to on-campus engineering activities and was involved in the Society of Women Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Engineering Club, and the Pioneer Leadership Program. She also managed to squeeze in tap classes and involvement in the Colorado Women’s Flyfishers. A University of Denver career fair led to jobs at Lockheed Martin Space Systems for two summers, and after graduation she’ll return to the company as a Mechanical Engineer for Missile Defense.

With her heart set on a particular career path, Emily plans to get an MBA or a technical masters degree and also complete the Engineering Leadership Development Program at Lockheed Martin. Emily’s advice for graduating high school seniors clearly reflects her own college years: “Be prepared to work for what you want, learn to enjoy learning, and don’t give up too easily. Be involved in lots of activities and enjoy college, because it’s over too quickly.”

Article by Sylvia Sensiper and courtesy of www.careersandcolleges.com

By College Recruiter
College Recruiter believes that every student and recent grad deserves a great career.