Thursday, March 24, 2011

Senior Engineer vs Tenured Faculty

On Tuesday, over at Engineer Blogs, I guest-posted about how universities are changing their new shiny into User Facilities. An Old Engineer posted a (loosely connected) comment on how some of the undergraduates are “in college only to learn the basics”. An Old Engineer then goes on to discuss how my generation doesn’t know anything. Kate summed up a response that I knew was coming: "The old folks always bitch about the young ones not knowing anything and wanting to move up fast. The young folks always bitch about the old ones not ever wanting to change anything."

I thought more and more about An Old Engineer’s comments, specifically on young engineers expecting to be senior engineers within 5-10 years. I didn’t want to be rash which is why I didn’t post yesterday. (I know, shocking. For those that know me, I sometimes “see by the light of my burning bridges [Terry Pratchett]”).

And you know what? If I pursued work in industry, rather than academia, I would expect to be promoted to a Senior Engineer within 5-10 years if I kept to the same standard that I hold myself to now. The main reason is because within 7 years, I’ll either be booted from SnowU or have tenure, which to my eyes is the same thing as being labeled a Senior Engineer.

I can do “bolt torque calculations” and I don’t need any help setting up proof-of-concept experiments. Oh, and that is after I’ve built my system by using my skills on a mill and lathe. And once I’m done with the experiment, I can write it into an effective report (or in my case, journal paper). I have numerous instances of that. And lastly, once I have the results, I have no problem standing in front of a crowd and saying “these are our results, look at how cool our research is.” That’s the sales aspect that you need in academia and in industry.

I’ve spent extra 6 years in school, wrote effectively 2 books (MS Thesis and PhD Thesis) on two entirely different topics. I’ve learned how to juggle class work, several research projects (even self initiated ones), publishing, academic politics, mentoring students, occasionally teach, and serve on committees in the university and the community at large. And the few universities that did manage to look past my lack of a postdoc on my CV and application package thought I was good enough to bring in for an interview and ultimately offered me a tenure track position.

So yes, if I keep on the same track, I would expect to be a “Senior Engineer” in 5-10 years. I’ll have to prove that I can bring in research money, successfully mentor my graduate students, and effectively reach undergraduates, some of whom might only “be in college for the basics”.

How is that any different, in principle, to what would be expected of a Senior Engineer? What do you expect Senior Engineers to do? How would that be different from Tenure Faculty? What are the correlations between the two? Thoughts? Comments?

1 comment:

  1. I think research is pretty different from private industry. Research lets you focus on one thing usually and get very good at it with people who are purposefully mentoring you and literature that is guiding to you to that end.

    On the other hand, I don't think it's unreasonable that some engineers will become senior 5-10 years after working. I certainly expect to be at a higher level in such time as I had prior working experience. My boss was made a manager in less time, and most of the leads who I work for are the same way. On the other hand, I guess it depends on how you define senior. There's a difference between being a lead or supervisor and being a rockstar and being a senior engineer whom everyone goes to with their questions and understands the product in her sleep. So maybe "senior" is innaccurate, but I do think many of the exceptional people I work with will be leads or experts in 5-10 years after graduation. Not everyone, but enough of them. The ones who don't usually don't stick around or transfer to other more people-oriented careers once they've outlived their welcome.