5.1. Overview

This section addresses career planning. As important as it sounds, it is my experience that very few students engage in substantive career planning. At best, most of the successful students sort of just bonce from one opportunity to the next with no overall BIG PICTURE plan in mind. Not good. We want all student to think about what they want to do – to set goals, objectives, milestones, and shorter-tem targets. We tell each and every student to carefully and systematically


The best time to start planning your career is “yesterday.” If you didn’t start then, the best time is RIGHT NOW!

5.2. Figuring Out What You Want to Do (When You Grow Up) – And NOT Giving Up To Soon!

It is important to try to figure out what it is you want to do when you grow up. I do this every day of my life. What does this mean? As a professor, every day I am thinking about what I will be working on over the next year, several years and what I will be working on in the future! I have to do this. The world is “a changin.” And it’s changing rapidly. Anticipating future needs is a lot of fun for me. One day, I hope it will be fun for you.


For someone getting started (e.g. freshmen year), it can be a bit stressful. I understand. Students might ask: “What do I chose?” “How do I chose?” And the biggest concern of all, it seems to me – based on listening to many students (i.e. what they say and what they don’t say), is:
  • “What if I chose incorrectly?”
I am here to tell you that if you are choosing engineering as a career, any of the disciplines will provide you with some built in safety net; some security. Of course, you still need to do your homework about what you really enjoy, the class of problems being addressed within the discipline, current and forward looking opportunities, job prospects, pay, working conditions, etc. But, general speaking, all of the engineering disciplines offer good pay, exciting work, excellent working conditions, great world-impacting challenges and tremendous current and forward looking opportunity.
I think many students feel that if they chose incorrectly, they will be stuck doing the same thing for all eternity. I am here to say that it does not work like that. This is not a nightmarish episode of the Twilight Zone Given this, there are few facts/guidelines all students should be aware of:
  • engineers are expected to change areas every 7 or so years
  • whatever you pursue, give it your all; if you chose an area and give it your all, asking questions, getting answers, etc., the knowledge you gain will transfer offer to any other area that you pursue later
  • don’t give up on an area because of one bad experience with a class
Imagine a bright, well-tempered A student who wishes to become a neural surgeon, gets a C in a biology class and then decides to completely forgo a surgical career and medical school. Now, if the student knows that she or he could not possibly have approached the class better, even then I would say: “time to pick up some additional learning skills; not abandon one’s dream.” Suppose the student got sick during the semester, missed several assignments and a critical review session. Well then (my goodness), there is NO justification for such a drastic decision. What if the student went out with friends the night before the last two exams – an outrageously idiotic decisions (in retrospect). Still, no reason to abandon one’s dreams. Instead, it’s time to GET SERIOUS! So what is my point?
  • Dreams that have involved hard work, sacrifice and planning should never be readily discarded. They should be altered if and only if we know that we have done our very best and have no more to give and/or after great reflection and introspective thinking, we realize that there is a more stimulating alternative to pursue. In general, it doesn’t matter to me what you do/chose so long as you


There are few obvious tips that I can give to students:
  • if you want to go to medical school, consider biomedical engineering
  • if you want to go to law school to study patent law, then any engineering discipline should provide a solid foundation
5.3. Exciting Career Opportunities

The world is experiencing an ongoing (and accelerating) technological revolution. The forward looking opportunities seem virtually endless.
Here are tremendous growth areas: 5.4. Career Planning

To start you career planning, you may look at: 5.5. Skills Worth Acquiring

As you move forward with your academic (or even after you have graduated), there are several skills that are useful to the modern engineer.
  • Analytical Skills
  • Programming Languages (e.g. C++, Python, etc.)
  • Financial Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Software Packages (e.g. ANSYS, CATIA, SOLDWORKS, etc.)
  • Communications – Languages, Writing and Public Speaking
  • Working in Teams
  • Resume and Cover Letter Writing
  • Portfolio preparation
  • Interviewing Tips - prepare, listen carefully, answer the question, it’s ok (and highly recommended) to say I do not know
  • Internships - great for figuring out what you want and do not want to do; remember: they are checking you out to see if they want to propose marriage (i.e. hire you on full time!)
5.6 Mentors

What is a Mentor A student of Homer might say mentor was a friend of Odysseus who mentored his son Telemachus. Not too useful in 2017. Here is a better (more pragmatic) answer. A mentor can help you with anything! Here is a short list:
  • academic success tips
  • choosing classes
  • preparing for classes
  • professional development
  • finding a career-steering/shaping project topic
  • helping with references to read
  • getting lab experience
  • working on projects
  • writing papers
  • presenting papers at conferences
  • developing a substantive career plan
  • helping you start a company
  • helping with intellectual property issues
  • writing a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, fellowship, graduate school, award at work, and much more…
  • financial advice
  • resolving personal issues
  • general discussions

How to Find a Mentor?

How does one go about finding a mentor? Some career service offices offer career coaching. There’s one option! The ASU Fulton Career Center offers career coaching. Take advantage of it!

Here is another widely used mentor finding method. Go on the web to see what Fulton professors are working in areas of interest to you. Don’t just walk into their office unprepared. Be prepared. Your standard should be higher than the “be prepared standard of the boy scouts.” Make sure that you do your homework. First impressions are very important.

You should examine the following:

A Primer on Finding a Mentor

Attributes of a Good Mentor

What are important mentor attributes? Here are a few attributes and functions:
  • TIME: willing to spend time with her/his mentee
  • LISTENING: tries listen to mentee and figure out what is “bugging” the mentee; sometimes mentees don’t know how to ask what they want to ask; don’t let this be you! Be Prepared!
  • WISE: helps mentee with difficult decisions and consider important consequences
  • CRITICAL THINKING: helps mentee with critical thinking (thing about her/his thinking)
  • PLANNING: helps mentee with planning; this includes helping mentee define realistic goals, objectives, milestones and shorter-term targets
  • PUBLISHING: helps mentee publish their research/project findings
  • FUNDING: helps mentee with funding for travel, teaching assistantship, research assistantship, scholarship, fellowship, etc.
  • SUCCESS STRATEGIES: helps mentee develop strategies for success
  • OBSTACLES: helps you overcome and/or negotiate obstacles
  • AUTHORITATIVE BALANCE: knows when to be patient and when to be firm
  • REPRESENTATION: fights for her/his mentee (when the position is worth fighting for and the mentee has earned it)
Examine the following: You should also examine the following: 5.7 Professional Organizations

Here is a list of professional engineering organizations: 5.8 Professional Conferences

Given that you wish to become a successful professional. You ought to try to attend some professional conference. You will see and learn quite a bit there.

5.9. Community Service

One of the biggest gifts in my life has been giving back to the community. I remember my first tutoring job. It was at the Math Tutoring Center at the City College of New York (CCNY). I would have gladly done it for free. It was a pleasure; an honor. I remember tutoring single working mothers – much older than me. I could see the impact I was having. It was significant. When I was at Polytechnic Institute of New York (PINY), I remember mentoring students for a year at John F. Kennedy High School. Once again, I could see the impact. What’s the relevant point here?

In general, if you are studying engineering, you are VERY lucky – very fortunate. There are so many people in need. Helping others is a way to leverage our collective talents to help society. We help some. They, in turn, help other. The multiplier effect is profound!

If the above is not strong enough for you – a little too touchy-feely, how about the following more direct incentive. DO a good job helping others and that may be all that your supervisor needs to write you a life changing letter to get you admitted to graduate school, get you a fellowship worth $300-500K, get you a major award, get you a dream job, etc.

5.10. Mentoring Students

What I’ve go to say here is short:
  • we’re a team – a community of learners and mentors
  • help one another; care for one another;
  • the multiplier effect is VERY profound!
5.11. Public Speaking and Giving an Effective Presentation

Learn to speak in public. It will pay off. Learn Aristotle’s 3 modes of persuasion (epos, pathos, logos) More on this later!

5.12. Gaining Research Experience

The best way to gain research experience is to start working on some project with a professor.

Get on the web, see what ASU Fulton professors are working on, pick an area that interests you, do your homework and then make an appointment to visit with the professor. If it doesn’t work out, find another. There are plenty of “professors in the sea.” An internship can also give you valuable research experience.

Those of you that view the word “RESEARCH” the way Dracula views a Christian cross, a Werewolf views a silver bullet, or Superman views Kryptonite, I have some useful advice for you. RESEARCH is about the following:
  • what problem are we trying to solve?
  • why is it important?
  • what have others done to address the problem?
  • what are the pros and cons of their approach?
  • what idea or combination of ideas do you have (combining your ideas with those of others is ok)? what are the pros/cons?
  • what might you learn/gain if you pursue the project?
  • what are the possible cons of pursuing the project?
Now, please notice that a good entrepreneur or product engineer must ask the same questions! When we by a home or a car or anything of value or that we care about, what are we supposed to do? Answer: RESEARCH! What is my point? RESEARCH is something we all do and have to do. We might as well try to get good at it!

If the word RESEARCH frightens you, use the word PROJECT instead.

5.13. Proposal Writing

For proposal writing, examine: 5.14. Senior Design Capstone Projects

As undergraduates should
  • turn your initial interest surfing into an interest paper
  • your interest paper into a career-steering/shaping project
and the latter into a senior design capstone project – all of which (if done properly) can be proudly highlighted on your resume and at that critical career fair moment!

5.15. Research and Professional Seminars

All young engineering professional wan-a-bees (students) should attend research/professional seminars in order to strengthen their technical and professional muscles.

I remember attending seminars in graduate school that I did not understand at all. BUT… they were building my technical/brain muscles; i.e. strengthening those technical/scientific neural connections. My advisors understood this. It took me 2 years to appreciate this! I am eternally grateful. The term “no pain, no gain” appears in all arenas of life.

No pain, no gain especially applies to learning.

Just ask the authors of Make it Stick

5.16. Working with a Professor

A good way to start on that serious technical career path is to work with a professor. Together, you can
  • discuss your interests
  • turn your interests into a useful interest paper
  • turn the latter into a career-steering shaping project
  • turn the latter into a 30 year career topic (e.g. autonomous systems, driverless vehicles, artificial intelligence, data mining, controls)!
5.17. Writing a Technical Paper

The following gives tips on writing a technical paper:
5.18. Publishing: Conferences, Journals, Books

As you are learning about your technical interests, you ought to gather relevant references. These include:
  • conference papers
  • journal papers
  • books
  • articles
  • undergraduate honors and MS/PhD theses
  • presentations
As you move forward toward a project, you will want to start thinking about the possibilities of publishing your work in the proceedings of a professional conference (e.g. ACM, AIAA, AIChE, ASCE, ASEE, ASME, BMES, IEEE, IISE, ISSE, SAE, SES, etc.). You can then present it at the conference. Such conferences are attended by many professionals around the world. Your work can turn into a a topic for an undergraduate thesis, an MS thesis or even a PhD thesis. You can then move to publishing in a journal and one day in a book.

5.19. What do Professors Really Do?

I have been at ASU since 1990. Throughout these many years I have learned the following.
  • People think they know what doctors do. They really don’t.
  • People think they know what lawyers do. They really don’t.
  • People don’t know what engineer do.
  • Engineers don’t know what engineering professors do.
The latter begs the question? What do professors really do? Here is a list of what professors do:
  • advise students on classes or anything else
  • supervise senior design projects
  • supervise undergraduate, MS and PhD theses
  • conduct research on cutting edge problems in areas of national importance
  • write proposals to funding agencies and industry (e.g. NSF, NIH, AFOSR, DARPA, etc.) to support their research, students and university infrastructure/programs (e.g. laboratories, computers, scholarships, training, etc.)
  • consult, start/manage companies, develop products or assist with product development
  • publish their research findings
  • serve on technical advisory board (e.g. National Academies, NSF, NIH, Army Research Laboratory, AFOSR, DARPA, etc.)
Universities performed 15% of all U.S. R&D in 2011 ($63B). In 2012, universities performed 14%. In 2012, this was 46% of all R&D (excluding R&D by industry). Universities and colleges have performed between 50 and 60% of all basic research in each year since 1998, including 53.5% in 2012. Conversely, industry which once performed about one-third of all basic research in the U.S. has seen this share decrease over time. Less than 20% of all basic research has been performed by industry in each year since 1998, including a share of 18.6% in 2012. See: This should give you a better idea what professors do.



Dr. Armando A. Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Southwest Institute for ENG Transfer Excellence (SWIETE)

Motivated Engineering Transfer Students (METS) Center
Professor of Electrical Engineering
School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering
Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering
Arizona State University

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Office: (480) 965-3712
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