Engineering grads flock to other fields
Out of all employed 2012 graduates, only 17 percent are employed by the engineering industry
September 2, 2013, 9:15 pm · Updated September 2, 2013, 11:08 pm·
A few weeks ago, Alan Leshner, editor of Science Magazine, wrote an editorial ominously beginning with: “The U.S. scientific enterprise is heavily beleaguered.”
This feeling may be true. Out of all employed 2012 graduates, only 17 percent are employed by the engineering industry, which brings the percent total of the 2012 engineering class involved in either engineering or graduate school for the sciences to about 28.4 percent.
Pat Rose, director of Career Services, said that many employers “feel that they can’t find enough qualified American nationals” in engineering fields.
For Penn Engineering graduates, finance and consulting combined is the largest employer for the class with 36 percent of the 2012 graduates working in the two sectors.
Paulo Arratia, associate professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, explains the numbers as “simple economics.”
He cites disillusionment due to the difficulty of receiving funding for the “noble cause” of research as the reason why there are low numbers of engineers going into research. Arratia also said going into consulting and finance is “part of the culture” at Penn due to the presence of the Wharton School.
Arratia believes the best way to attract more students to research and engineering is to create more incentives.
Engineering students also share Arratia’s view of simple economics.
“If you’re going to offer me a six-figure salary in finance when I graduate versus $70,000 for working at a software engineering firm… I mean I would definitely sacrifice pursuing a passion,” said Engineering sophomore Christian Barcenas.
Rahil Mehrotra, a 2011 Engineering graduate working in the engineering industry in India, believes many students take high paying consulting and finance jobs for the perceived “money” and “glamour,” or to pay off student loans.
“Engineers are not really given much importance in the economy,” he said. “There is a lack of high paying jobs in manufacturing.”
He also sees a generational divide in the types of jobs the current generation is willing to take compared to their parents’ generation. “Maybe we’ve had things a little easier… there is a tendency to take the easy way out for a living.”
Others have a different perspective. Christopher Murray, a material science and engineering professor, feels positively toward the prospect of engineers in different fields, citing their quantitative skills and ability to “base decisions on facts” as crucial qualities needed in government, industry, or on Wall Street.
In Mehrotra’s case, he decided to work at a non-governmental organization upon graduation to “maximize learning” instead of maximizing earnings.
However, his decision is in the minority compared to the rest of his class. To the rest of the engineers, Rose offers a quote from Einstein when considering post-graduation plans: “Everything that counts can’t [necessarily] be counted.”