Identity in Engineering Adulthood

James L. Huff, Jonathan A. Smith, Brent K. Jesiek, Carla B. Zoltowski, William C. Oakes
  • Emerging Adulthood, June 2018, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/2167696818780444

How early-career engineers come to understand who they are--inside and outside of work

What is it about?

Early-career engineers in the United States undergo an abrupt transition between their environments in engineering programs and in engineering workplaces. How does this abrupt change affect their thinking related to their identities? In this study, we interviewed seven individuals before they graduated with bachelor degrees in engineering and then again after they had been working for two to three months. We found that in their transition into the workplace, they tended to solidify their concepts of who they were as engineers. However, in relation to who they were outside the workplace, they desired to explore identities and figure out who they were beyond being engineers. Additionally, the four women participants experienced a particular tension between their roles within their own families and the demands of their careers.

Why is it important?

Understanding how engineers come to think of themselves has critical implications for how engineers are supported in both education and in the workplace. Previous research has tended to examine how engineering students and engineers think about their identities within the profession but gives little examination of how these individuals understand who they are outside of their profession. By studying the engineer as a whole person with multiple forms of identity, this study helps to understand how we can not only support the competence of engineering students and engineers but also how we can support their overall human development and psychological well-being.


James Huff (Author)

As a psychological researcher and engineering educator, I was motivated to conduct research in understanding the whole person within our students and early-career engineers. Perhaps the greatest joy as an educator is getting to witness a student author their path forward in a way that aligns with their core identities. In contrast, one of the greatest tragedies as an engineering educator for students to leave engineering (or continually grapple with their existence in the field) if they feel that their core identities do not align with what others expect of engineering students. Many educators are invested in developing the whole person within our students and not just pushing them to perform specific calculations with proficiency. This study is an outgrowth of my motivation as an educator to cultivate healthy development in the whole person within the engineering student.

Read Publication

The following have contributed to this page: James Huff

In partnership with: