To what extent does the professional practicum develop or change an engineering student’s professional identity?

Katherine Nguyen, Sally A. Male, Dawn Bennett, Nicoleta Maynard

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


Educational institutions provide the learning foundation upon which competence for a professional engineering career is established. Therefore it is important that the educational institution provides the graduate with the generic attributes and competencies required to lead a successful career. Graduates, however, often feel unprepared to meet the demands of the engineering profession, and it could be argued that the majority of engineering programs do not adequately prepare students for the socio-technical aspect of engineering (Trevelyan, 2011).
This project addresses the development of an engineering students’ identity and its influence on career development upon completion of the professional practicum program. The guiding research question used in this study was: To what extent are students’ identities and self-perceptions of their competencies developed through exposure to engineering practice in completion of the professional practicum?
The research design consisted of four stages of data collection: survey of competencies, interviews, analysis of practicum reports, and a focus group to validate findings. This paper focuses on findings from the survey component. Each phase of data collection utilised the ‘possible selves’ theory (Marcus and Nurius, 1986) to identify participants’ projections about what they hoped to become, what they expected to become, and what they feared becoming (Freer and Bennett, 2012).
It was anticipated that findings would identify the elements of identity that were acquired, realised or developed during, or as a result of, the professional practicum. In particular the study hoped to uncover how students experienced the practicum and how their identities changed as a result. It was anticipated that the study would reveal the effectiveness of the professional practicum, as experienced and described by the participants, and that this would increase our understanding of the extent to which the professional practicum developed or changed students’ emerging professional identities.
Preliminary analysis indicated that both students who had completed the professional practicum and those who had not, viewed effective communication and ability to work in a team (socio-technical skills) as important generic attributes to be a successful engineer in the industry. However, students who had not completed the professional practicum acknowledged the importance of technical skills at a higher level than did those who had completed the professional practicum. This suggests the students’ perception of the relative importance of technical competence dropped during the professional practicum. The results also indicate the need for future research, with a focus on identity formation, to assist engineering educators to examine the efficacy and adequacy of industry engagement currently offered to engineering students.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2013 Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE) Annual Conference
PublisherAustralasian Association for Engineering Education
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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