This semester, I’m working with an undergraduate on research, and we’ve had some interesting discussions about preparing for the academic track instead of an industrial path. My graduate institution is a very research-oriented school, and encourages students to follow the academic path. Undergraduate courses are very theoretical, and their senior capstone experience is a small research project. Most students are expected to participate in a research project at some point besides the capstone project. My undergraduate instution was almost exactly the opposite, expecting the majority of students to find jobs in industry after graduation. Students are encouraged to take internships, and the senior capstone project is done as an industrial partnership.
Materials science and engineering, courtesy of the “and”, tends to have a much larger research component than other engineering fields, so it’s not so absurd for a department to expect most of their students to go to grad school. However, many students don’t consider what they plan to do after graduation when they’re searching for colleges in high school. So how to you prepare for the opposite of what you’re being set up to do?
To me, the first thing is to try what you think you want to do. If you think you want to pursue research, find a professor to do research with, or apply for an NSF REU program or national lab program, like ORISE. If you think you want to go into industry, try to find an internship or co-op experience. If you have no idea, try both. More importantly, these are things that can be pursued independent of the curriculum offerings available. GEARS has previously discussed classes every ME should take, and I’ve talked about what I think all engineers should know, but as a student, you generally have little influence over what classes you can take.
What suggestions would you have for an undergraduate who wants to pursue the career path you took?