While more women today are studying engineering, many use it as a launch base for a variety of other careers, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Government initiatives encourage women into what has been regarded as a tough, heavy and dirty profession, but they are often turned off by the teaching and learning methods used in higher education, says the study led by Professor Barbara Bagilhole, of Loughborough University.
As a result, rising numbers of women engineering students have failed to translate into an equivalent increase in those taking up the profession for a living. The study, which involved finding out students' views before, during and after an industrial placement, throws light on the experiences of women in a largely male-dominated environment, and the strategies they adopt for coping.
Some were at a post-1992 university, and more likely to be mature or part-time students. They had different experiences and priorities to the mostly post A-level undergraduates at the other establishment involved, a pre-1992 university. The researchers found that women students had identified engineering degrees as a good basis for a variety of career paths. However, they found that the most useful skills on transferring to the workplace were practical and generic ones.
Indeed, students of both sexes were critical of content, assessment methods, and emphasis on theory in their college courses, and wanted instead a more practical and relevant curriculum. The study says that the transition from education to work can be difficult for students in terms of adjusting to the practicalities and routines of work, as well as the workplace culture. Industrial placements can ease this process, and help women engineering students make choices about their careers.
Professor Bagilhole said: "Women adopt a variety of strategies for coping both as an industrial placement student and in a
Contact: Annika Howard
Economic & Social Research Council