Engineering students' preferred roles: Are they stable, are there gender differences?

Carthy, D., Craps, S., Gaughan, K., Knipprath, H., Bowe, B., Langie, G., van der Veen, J., van Hattum-Janssen, N., Jarvinen, H. M., de Laet, T., Ten Dam, I. and Dassault, Systemes (2020) Engineering students' preferred roles: Are they stable, are there gender differences? 48th Annual Conference on Engaging Engineering Education, SEFI 2020. pp. 121-131.


Being able to situate oneself in an engineering role is a developmental process. Students may initially have idealized perceptions of a professional role and over time, they make this role more congruent with their own values and goals [1]. In light of this, Higher Education Institutions are being challenged to offer learning experiences and career exploration activities to enable students to clarify their interests, values and competencies in relation to a professional role [2]. This study compared the professional role preferences of more than 700 engineering students at TU Dublin (Ireland) and KU Leuven (Belgium). Professional role preference was measured with PREFER Explore, a personal preference test for engineers. The test aligns students to three professional roles for early career engineers: Product leadership (focus on radical innovation), Operational excellence (focus on process optimization) and Customer intimacy (focus on tailored solutions and customer satisfaction). A comparison was drawn between the role preference of first year students at TU Dublin and KU Leuven to establish if there were significant differences in preference across both universities. The results suggest that the role preference of engineering students does not shift from first to third year. There is also evidence that the PREFER Explore is sensitive to gender differences, with female students showing a greater preference for customer intimacy than males and males showing a greater preference for operational excellence than females at TU Dublin. The data have a number of implications for the labor market in Ireland and Belgium. © 2020 SEFI 48th Annual Conference Engaging Engineering Education, Proceedings. All rights reserved.

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