Becoming an electrical engineer: a mixed methods study of electrical engineers' studies and career

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


    Engineers are regarded as analytic problem-solvers and experts in their specific technical fields. This substantive expertise is acquired during engineering studies, whereas personal and professional competences are largely adopted after graduation. The on-going changes in society require that such qualifications be learnt faster, and thereby technical universities need to ‘produce’ graduates with better qualifications for working life. Yet, there is not enough knowledge of how engineers gain the seeds in expertise and professional competences in higher engineering studies. Furthermore, universities need more research-based data on ways which professional competences could more effectively be integrated into the curriculum design. This research examines electrical engineers, their education and careers. In particular, it describes experiences that electrical engineers have gained from their studies, expertise, professional competences, and careers in working life. The data for the study were collected and analysed with a mixed methods approach. Quantitative data were collected by means of survey questionnaires. The first survey (N=99) was sent to engineers graduated from the Department of Electrical and Communications Engineering at Helsinki University of Technology. The students at the Department (N=120) whose studies had been delayed, comprised the sample in the second survey. Finally, 12 interviews of graduated electrical engineers were conducted and turned into narrative stories with a qualitative, narrative approach. The results show that a foundation in engineering knowledge is built during the university studies, when students in general adapt an engineering mindset and identity. Such learning draws from their scientific studies, for instance, in mathematics and physics. The findings suggest that the respondents in the surveys and in the narrative stories were generally satisfied with their studies at the Department. Still, they criticised mass lecturing and claimed that teaching should have been more interactive. They also expressed that students could be regarded more as individuals. The narrative stories reveal that electrical engineers in working life become experts but not necessarily in electrical engineering. They acquired new competences e.g. in financial management, HR, or budgeting, and currently manage a group of experts in their industry. The results indicate there is a need to enhance knowledge of pedagogies incorporating expertise and professional competencies more systematically into the engineering education.
    Translated title of the contributionPolku sähkötekniikan alan diplomi-insinööriksi: monimenetelmätutkimus Teknillisen korkeakoulun sähkötekniikan insinöörien opinnoista ja urasta
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Sihvola, Ari, Supervising Professor
    • Ropo, Eero, Thesis Advisor, External person
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-5251-9
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5252-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


    • engineering education
    • expertise
    • professional competencies
    • career


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