“Don’t know what we’ll be doing yet”: Enhancing career preview and engagement among undergraduate engineering students

Sally A. Male, Dawn Bennett

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionResearchpeer-review


Recruitment and retention is a key concern for Australian engineering, with indications that 40% of engineering graduates work in other professions rather than in engineering (Tilli & Trevelyan, 2010) and attrition from Australian engineering degrees standing at around 35% (Godfrey & King, 2011). The attrition of students and graduate engineers has led to concerns that students may enter engineering study without understanding the realities of either their degree programs or engineering work. This study contributes to understanding these issues and explores possible approaches to address them.BACKGROUNDThis study built on previous research in which potential threshold concepts in an engineering foundation program were identified by engineering educators and students, and negotiated by engineering educators around Australia, and in New Zealand and Europe (Male, 2012; Male & Baillie, 2011; Parkinson, 2011). The project revealed understanding of ‘roles of engineers’, the ‘value of learning’, and ‘self-directed learning’, as threshold concepts. These concepts were found to be transformative and troublesome for many students and they were likely to be linked (Meyer & Land, 2003). Using an innovative pedagogical design we explored how students might be supported to explore and manage these concepts within the existing curricular structures of undergraduate programs.PURPOSETo better understand the three concepts identified above and to determine how teaching staff could support students to negotiate them, the current study drew on research that had successfully enhanced students’ career preview, self-efficacy and identity development in other disciplines (Bennett, 2012) and applied this thinking to engineering.DESIGN/METHODThe study combined three theoretical frameworks. We engaged engineering students in workshops in which they investigated roles and attributes of engineers, the purpose of their studies, and their engineering goals. The workshops were designed to provide valuable learning experiences, and they were structured such that we could add to the existing body of research through data collection and analysis.RESULTSThe findings within each framework are consistent and informed each other; however, each framework provided unique insights into why students experienced the previously identified threshold concepts and each framework gave us different terminology to explain the students’ experiences.CONCLUSIONSThe three frameworks enriched understanding of the previously identified threshold concepts. The study draws attention to the need and opportunity for engineering educators to help students adopt presage or foundational thinking in relation to their engineering futures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2014 Australasian Association of Engineering Education (AAEE) Conference, Wellington, New Zealand
PublisherAustralasian Association for Engineering Education
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of '“Don’t know what we’ll be doing yet”: Enhancing career preview and engagement among undergraduate engineering students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this