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Narratives of Practice: Making Sense of Engineering Work

Dr. Estrella Johnson


A growing body of evidence suggests persistent gaps between what engineering students learn in the classroom versus the realities they face when they enter the workforce. Yet even as our understanding of engineering teaching and learning continues to expand, there remains a surprising lack of empirical research on engineering practice. This presentation introduces an evolving research program focused on the job expectations and day-to-day realities of engineers at work, with special emphasis placed on global/international and early career experiences. Empirical evidence is drawn from multiple projects to highlight a number of themes, including challenges associated with the transition from school to work, the emotional and psychological dimensions of professional life, the sociotechnical nature of engineering, and boundary spanning as a frame for studying practice. Narrative methods are also proposed as a way to craft more holistic accounts of practice, and a number of suggestions are made for educational interventions that align with empirical research findings.



Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is an Associate Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He also leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and practice.