Have you ever thought about becoming a professor, while still having the desire to experience life in the engineering industry first? After all, real world experience is an asset in the field of applied sciences. For many engineering professors, prior industry experience is essential to instruct students on how their academic studies will pertain to the working world. There is a symbiotic relationship between education and application. What students learn, they later apply to a working environment. As research evolves, the experience and knowledge gained from working is transferred back into academia so that it may be taught to the next generation of students. This circular relationship is essential to the advancement of societies and technology.
Courtesy of http://uspas.fnal.gov
However, making this seemingly logical switch between industry and academia is not always as straight forward as it may appear. The engineering field is a vast area with varied specialties and emphasis. Some positions in industry encourage a career change to academia, while others may inhibit or discourage this switch. If you do plan to pursue this career change, it is important to keep in mind the different sectors of the engineering industry.
The largest and most prominent example of industry that discourages this career change is the Department of Defense. Since much of the research and work is classified, it is can be very difficult to leave on-going research projects. In addition, engineering is often taught through analogy of applied examples and the inability to cite classified materials can limit the lecture materials.
Dr. Eric Mehiel, a current professor of aerospace engineering, used to work for Boeing astronautics as a satellite systems engineer. His own career switch enables him to give a unique perspective in this matter. “Right now it is especially hard to change careers with the department of Homeland Security; however that is where all of the money is.” Pay is often higher in this sector; however it is important to understand the obligations a defense industry job involves such as confidentiality and long-term dedication. This may inhibit a planned change into a teaching career.
Courtesy of www.simlabs.arc.nasa.gov
In contrast to the defense industry, many other sectors of engineering are often tied to university research. Academic collaboration often goes hand in hand with their mission objectives. “Non-defense industries like NASA or the Department of Energy often encourage cross work with academia. Adjunct faculties are often hired for their expertise,” noted Mehiel. This bridges the gap between industry and academia and enables a very natural transition from industry to academia.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you as an engineering student wants to pursue. Careers can almost never be one hundred percent planned out. There will always be unusual opportunities that may lead you to areas you had never considered working before. However having early knowledge on where jobs can lead you can make possible career transitions smoother and easier.
For more information on the engineering sectors discussed in this article go to:
Department of Defense
The US Department of Energy