Publication Details

Domal, V., Stappenbelt, B. & Trevelyan, J. (2008). Professional development at university: student perceptions of professional engineering practice. In L. Mann, A. Thompson & P. Howard (Eds.), Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education: To Industry and Beyond (pp. 1-7). Barton, A.C.T: Institution of Engineers, Australia.


This study examined student perceptions regarding professional engineering practice. We surveyed secondary school students attending engineering camps, engineering students in their first and fourth years, graduate engineers and experienced engineers to ascertain their impressions about what constitutes the daily activities of a professional engineer. We asked respondents to rate 39 aspects of engineering practice identified from the research later reported in (Trevelyan 2008). These aspects were rated by the participants according to their perception of the importance and the frequency encountered in engineering practice. We also asked where the participants learned or where they believed they were going to learn how to perform the various tasks associated with these aspects. We grouped the aspects into six functional themes; technical skills, technical knowledge, management, teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills. We found that student perceptions of professional engineering practice changed significantly as they progressed from year ten, through first and onto fourth year engineering at university. Year ten students rated technical knowledge as highly important to engineering practice, with relatively low ratings given to the other five areas. It may be argued that this corresponds reasonably with general public perception of professional engineering activity. First year engineering students realised the importance of communication and management skills in engineering practice. They believed that the university would assist them in developing these skills to the expectations of industry. As students progress through their degrees however, as judged from the perception of final year engineering students, it becomes clear that university fails in training them for industry requirements. This is particularly evident with regard to management skills where we can observe the greatest deviation between industry and student responses of relative importance. The findings indicate that most of these tasks are learned on the job and the university does not contribute significantly in training graduates to perform to the level of industry expectations. It is likely that student perceptions regarding professional engineering practice are reflective of the emphasis that is placed on the various aspects of their technical and non-technical development in the educational curriculum. This raises concerns regarding the alignment of the engineering curriculum to industry requirements. It appears that despite adherence to the accreditation requirements for the engineering degree, graduates are not being produced with the required or desired attributes.

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