Back in June, Dr. Jennifer DeBoer of Purdue University presented our conference publication titled “Women’s Motivation to Pursue Engineering Education and Careers: a Case Study of Malaysia” at the 2018 ASEE conference in Salt Lake City, UT. The authors on this paper (in order) were Zahra Atiq, Sarah Morton, and Drs. Nehal Abu-Lail, Ashley Ater Kranov, Julie Kmec, and Jennifer DeBoer.
This paper was a case study of female engineering faculty and practicing engineers, and had the goal of examining the choices informing these women’s trajectories into academic versus industry work. There is very little prior research on what factors impact choosing an academic versus industry career in engineering in general, let alone gender differences in these choices. Our case study helps fill this research gap.
Our data came from focus groups involving 22 female engineering faculty and 16 practicing engineers affiliated with Malaysia’s top engineering school. Our findings were very interesting. First, we found that a passion or desire for teaching, the appropriateness of teaching for women, and the compatibility of an academic career and family were among the factors mentioned by the engineering faculty that pulled them towards an academic engineering career. Second, the practicing engineers mentioned that salary and other benefits attracted them to an industry career over academia. These women also mentioned having to prove themselves as female engineers in industry, but that the outcomes of these trials were ultimately rewarding. Lastly, more positive attributes were attributed to academia than industry, such as academia being more intellectual and less corrupt than industry, or industry being inherently dirty. However, the practicing engineers in our sample perceived industry as more exciting than academia, pulling these women towards industry careers despite the other perceived disadvantages.
We hope to use this work to further understand why women choose to go into and persist in engineering, whether the choice is educational or career oriented.