An in-depth study of professional identity of engineering students

Student thesis: Master-after-master


Engineering students often experience career orientation difficulties as a result of the numerous career options offered in the broad engineering field and/or a lack of professional and self-knowledge. This can contribute to a hampered transition from academia to the professional world and difficulties in career decision-making. Promoting a professional identity can improve the career orientation which can be achieved by career guidance that focusses on stimulating key constructs underlying the professional identity development. Because of its vast implications, professional identity has been investigated greatly, however, research focusing on engineering students is scarce. Additionally, researchers mainly focused on a restricted number of identity constructs, impairing a broad view of the professional identity in the same cohort. This study aimed to address these limitations by presenting an in-depth investigation of the professional identity of 624 engineering students of the Faculty of Engineering Technology at KU Leuven. This is achieved by examining five constructs simultaneously, including career exploration, professional roles awareness, competence awareness, role-fit confidence, and competence confidence. Using structural equation modeling techniques and survey data, we validated the survey design in measuring the constructs, we provided insights in the complex interplay between the identity constructs, and we determined several personal factors that altered the professional identity of engineering students. The results indicated the presence of a substantial positive correlation structure among the constructs, with possible stimulatory effects originating at career exploration that move downstream to awareness and confidence. Construct differences were observed for five of the six personal variables, i.e. phase of study, engineering persistence, professional role interest, migration status, and parental occupation, whereas no gender effects were present. These results contribute to a more general understanding of the professional identity of engineering students and, hence, provide fundamental support for the career guidance of these students during their education.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • KU Leuven

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