Content and Choices: An Exploration of Career Goals in Undergraduate Engineering Students
The careers that students pursue after graduating from engineering programs are a central component to engineering education. However, we lack perspective on how students, the main stakeholder of the engineering education system, describe the goals they have for their post-graduation careers and make choices related to those goals. As a first step in closing this gap, I explored the different types of career goals that students have, investigated how students connect different types of goals to choices they make in engineering programs, and developed a survey instrument for future research on career goals. My sequential mixed methods study consisted of three phases. In the first phase, I analyzed interview data via the constant comparative method to explore the different types of career goals that students described. In second phase, I used the types of goals identified in phase one to analyze how students described connecting their career goals to choices they made as undergraduates in longitudinal interview data. In the final phase, I adapted the ideas from phase one and phase two into a quantitative survey instrument, which I piloted for validity and reliability. My study produced four main outcomes. The first outcome was identifying two distinct types of career goals held by students including goals about the jobs students want post-graduation and goals relative to job attributes rather than specific jobs. The second outcome was that students connected both types of career goals to choices they make in the present academic context. The third outcome was that career goals and their connection to choices students make could be measured in a valid, reliable survey instrument. Finally, my results suggest that there may be differences in the ways that male and female students describe their career goals and the ways that career goals are connected to choices. These outcomes have broad implications for students, educators and researchers in the engineering education system.