“I’m originally from Portugal, but I’ve been living here for four years. My background is in biomedical engineering so it was difficult in the beginning because the PhD was a transition from a scientific engineering background to social sciences. It’s very different. But I also felt that during my master’s I was expecting something different, something more practical, something to apply to the labour market. I felt that I was not really well prepared so this position was perfect to fulfil that and to help other students make this transition easier.
The project I’m working on is called Prefer, which stands for Professional roles and employability of future engineers. We are a consortium of different universities, companies and engineering federations that aim to improve the employability of future engineers. Each university, each PhD student has a specific aim in the project. In my case, my aim is to develop curriculum elements such as activities and courses that stimulate engineering students to develop non-technical or professional skills.
Initially we wanted to know what competencies industry requires from our students. So, we went to industry with questionnaires and got a list of competencies that they expect. Based on that I started to develop these curriculum elements. Some of them are just small activities that I plug into an existing course. One is a full course of one week.
‘To do a PhD, you don’t need to be really smart, you need to persevere’
For their part of the project, KU Leuven developed a model of professional roles for engineers. There are three roles: the engineer who should be creative to develop a product or service; another engineer who is more operational and should improve the existing products and services; and the third one is the one who has contact with the client and tries to understand their needs. Of course, these roles are not totally separate. Some people feel their career belongs to two of these roles, but this is just a model. In the course I developed, participants experience all three of these roles during the week.
I still have a year and a half left. It might not be only my research, this might be a feeling that all PhD students experience, that to do a PhD, you don’t need to be really smart, you need to persevere. You need to motivate yourself to carry on because there are periods when you think what am I doing here, why am I not in a company earning money? So, I think that’s the main lesson I’ve learned through this.”
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