Moments that Matter : Early-Career Experiences of Diverse Engineers on Different Career Pathways

Floris van der Marel*, Tua Björklund, Sheri Sheppard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


While many early-career engineers in the United States leave the field of engineering in the first few years of their careers, we know little of their early professional experiences and reasoning for career plans. We conducted 33 semi-structured interviews with early-career engineers, comparing the experiences of engineers across intersections of gender and race. In particular, we examine meaningful early-career experiences and how these connect to the innate needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, as well as career intentions. Top moments on the job were often first-time experiences and milestones that enhanced the engineers’ sense of competence. Meaningful moments connected to relatedness were more often positive than negative experiences for White men, whereas experiences undermining relatedness were more common for people of color and/or women. Connections to autonomy emerged more in bottom moments, especially for White engineers. Across different intended career pathways, early-career engineers often evaluated their experiences regarding their ability to work effectively and through social validation from peers and managers (or undermined by a lack thereof). The results indicate the need for a greater understanding of early-career affordances in supporting entry and retention in the engineering workforce by promoting individual effectiveness and social validation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalEngineering Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Career pathways
  • diversity
  • engineering practice
  • meaningful moments


Dive into the research topics of 'Moments that Matter : Early-Career Experiences of Diverse Engineers on Different Career Pathways'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this