Egirl Team

AddedMonday, May 20, 2019 at 8:24 AM

How do I find a support network in engineering?


I have a group of friends in a lot of the same classes I’m in now and I’ve found having that support and camaraderie really helpful. I'm concerned about moving on to college and a career where I may not have that kind of group. Do engineers usually work in teams or by themselves? Were you able to find a group to work with in college or at your job? What are some ways I can find a similar support network in college or when I get a job as an engineer?

Related to Preparation for College, Social Concerns, Working with People
  • Priscilla Bennett , Spire / Laclede Gas Company
    Answered Friday, May 31, 2019 at 12:00 PM

    First off, no worry about not having the camaraderie. I can guarantee you will find similar interests in the people you are in college with along with your work environment. Engineers (in college and in the workplace) are normally working on similar projects or in close work spaces, so finding people you can get help from, support from and even mentoring should not be an issue. The best options for finding similar support groups/networks is joining some of the engineering clubs you’ll find on campus. Not only do these groups provide support, but you will also find they are perfect for helping you blow off a little steam, cut loose from the schoolwork (when you need to), and often you’ll find lifelong friends in these organizations that you can lean on after you graduate college. I still have friends from engineering school from 20+ years ago that I can call/message to talk through work challenges. As for the workplace, you’ll usually be placed on an engineering team or a project team and in no time you’ll find like-minded people you can talk to, have lunch with and sometimes even spend after-hours time with having a common workplace to initiate a friendship. It is rare to join a workplace where the engineers are working independently or on the own. Most work environments have project teams and sometimes have a single engineer on the team, but again, you’ll have the project in common and quickly make connections you can enjoy networking or building more personal friendships.

    I, personally, have maintained some very valuable friendships from the workplaces I’ve been. I am confident you will find the same especially knowing you understand the value of having a network of teammates and friends now. Good luck and definitely spend time getting to know those around you. You’ll find you have more and more in common with those you are around and will continue to learn from them as well as have a work family you can rely on when things sometimes get rough.

  • Kate Fay , Verizon Wireless
    Answered Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 1:43 PM

    Having the right support network in engineering is very important. In college, I would recommend looking to see if there is a program that allows you to live on a floor with other engineering freshman. I was able to make a very strong group of friends who were also in a lot of my classes this way. It is very important since there are a lot of group projects in engineering as well as tough homework that it helps to have a group to bounce ideas off of. There are also clubs and honor societies specific to engineering that you are able to meet people. I was a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) as well as the Mechanical Engineering Honor Society. These groups provide mentoring, volunteering, and educational opportunities but also allow you to take on a leadership position if you are interested.

    At work, you can find support through employee resource groups that provide similar opportunities as the clubs in college. Also as you move through different roles you will find mentors as well as friends that can provide support.

  • Madeleine Hirsch , BIG RED DOG Engineering, a Division of WGI
    Answered Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 1:48 PM

    From my experience, engineers work both in teams and by themselves. As a traffic engineer, I work on a team with many different people: other traffic engineers, planners, stakeholders, municipalities and many more. My college experiences definitely helped me with knowing how to work well with people. In college, I would work on projects and labs with other classmates. I learned how to divide up the work, check over each piece for thoroughness and create one cohesive product. I also was very close to my peers in college. From freshman year on, I kept seeing similar faces in my classes and we would all come together to work on assignments and projects together. Everyone was so helpful and wanted to see each other succeed. When you find the right company to work for, you’ll notice this continues; everyone is working together to succeed and put out the best work possible.

  • Kim Linder , Honeywell FM&T
    Answered Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 10:05 AM

    That is great that you have found a group of friends for support and camaraderie. And it is equally great that you recognize this is important for you. If you think back, you might recall there was a time when you didn’t. But you do now. A similar thing will happen when you go to college and at your job. In college, everyone will be in the same boat – that is, everyone will be new and looking for their group, especially during freshman year. Don’t be shy about reaching out to form these groups. The first year is hard, so don’t get dismayed. And everyone will have times they feel lonely – don’t think the fun times you see all over social media is how every day is, people just don’t tend to post the lonely times in their dorm room. It helps to join the student STEM organizations. This is a great way to make connections with others in your same degree path.

    When you get a job somewhere, ask about mentoring programs or groups within your job site. If the company does not have a structured mentoring program, simply ask someone. They will probably be flattered and say yes. And they will be a new friend before you know it. If there is not a club or group at your work, try starting one! A new employee tends to bring in new energy which is great for a business. You can also get involved it STEM professional societies outside of your job, which is another great way to make connections and make new friends and find that camaraderie and support group.

  • Andromeda DuMont , CH2M / Jacobs
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:14 AM

    Finding support groups as a professional is much different than the organic socialization that happens in school. At university you will have classes with other engineering students and be able to find people to do homework with. Because of the proximity to other students, shared new experiences as you both start college for the first time, and having similar classes, it's much easier to talk to people and find a support group of other engineers going through similar challenges.

    As a professional (to engineering or other professions) it will take effort, especially if you are moving to a new city for your job. In engineering, the way to meet similar people is through professional societies. There are usually new professional events, happy hours, and activities. Lots of these are sponsored so they have good turnout. I also recommend taking up board positions in societies and going to national-level conferences so that you meet like people from all over the world. I'd also suggest meeting people your age outside of work at meetups or other social events. Some of the people I'm closest with (which did take much more energy in adulthood than it used to at university) are people I've met through meetups and aren't actually engineers!

    Meeting people comes down to going outside your comfort zone and it's much easier if there's a shared topic to talk about or you're in an activity where you see the same people over and over. I also encourage people to prioritize their mental health. There's a few great podcasts on social anxiety because it's something that affects everyone (not just engineers!) in some way. And, if you're feeling like you are going through a transitional phase, it's a good idea to have a therapist you trust that you can talk it through with.

  • Elaine Weyuker , Independent Researcher and Consultant
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:10 AM

    Engineering is almost always a team endeavor. No one designs or builds a large system by themselves. You will find when you go to college that you will often be asked to work in groups. In fact, at the university I am associated with, every senior in the engineering school needs do a year-long Senior Design Project which is done in teams of 4 or 5, typically. They are big projects, many of which are proposed and sponsored by local industry to give students a real feel for the types of things they will be dealing with once they have graduated and are professionals.

    Another thing I suggest is seeing if there is a student organization on campus that specifically is aimed at women in engineering or computing. The two that come to mind are the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and ACM-W (the ACM is the computer science professional society and there are ACM student chapters as well as ACM Women's student chapters). Getting involved with these sorts of student organization can provide exactly the type of support group that you may find really helpful as you face the reality of a relatively small percentage of women students in your engineering and computing classes.

  • Marnie Smith , LivaNova
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:08 AM

    Support definitely exists at a college and professional level! Depending on the university you choose, there are typically many opportunities to find support. The difference is, you have to do the work to find it. Here are the things I found in my time years ago:

    • Women in Engineering program (WIE) was strong at Purdue University and still continues now. I lived on a floor in one of the dormitories surrounded by young women also pursuing Engineering which was IMMENSELY helpful! I also took one of the their intro classes freshman year and then ended up teaching one by my senior year.
    • I joined Phi Sigma Rho which was a social sorority for women in engineering and technology. This allowed me to pursue personal interests with a group of people who also understood my challenges balancing work and fun. Other organizations of this nature exist as well!
    • I made friends with students in my classes and formed a study group with two very close friends, I wouldn't have made it through Engineering without them! Our personalities and strengths/weaknesses always balanced each other out so we were able to take turn teaching/mentoring each other and learning.

    In the professional environment, there are also some options depending on company size. At very large companies I've worked with, there have been female focused affinity groups that would do programs, events, seminars etc. A big foundation of that is establishing mentors. Some companies offer Mentor/Mentee programs however, much like your career, it's ultimately up to you how and who you want to establish these relationships with. Throughout my career, I've worked with many amazing women and still reach out to them to run ideas by them.

    Support and camaraderie definitely exist in college and professional environments!

  • Tricia Berry , The University of Texas at Austin
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:07 AM

    In middle school or high school, join a science club or robotics team. Attend an engineering summer camp or volunteer at a STEM program. Connect with those who are in these programs and leading these programs to begin to create a network of peers and others who can support you, provide guidance, and help you navigate into engineering in college and beyond.

    In college, join student organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers, get involved with the Women in Engineering Program on your campus, live in a Living Learning Community with other engineers or STEM majors, find study groups, and find ways to get involved. Students who seek out help in college and join in a community tend to do better in school. There are lots of support systems and networks and organizations for students in college and you may have to seek them out and try several out before you find your community. Once you find a group that fits, you’ll have your support network to help you out through college and beyond.

  • Michi Whittall , Newmont Tanami Operations
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:06 AM

    I went to an all engineering college, so I actually found that there was more community and support there than I'd had in high school. I joined groups the focused on networking and support while I attended college. Groups like SWE (Society of Women Engineers), SME (Society for Mining Metallurgy and Exploration), and even joined a sorority for some sisterhood as our campus had a 4:1 male to female ratio. These groups helped me learn valuable networking skills and introduced me to supportive upper classmates who had already been in my shoes and were full of helpful advice, many of whom I am still connected with.

    In my experience as a professional engineer, I have always been able to find a small supportive network at work. Sometimes with other engineers and other times with professionals outside my field. Mining engineers tend to work in teams a lot, there is lots of collaboration and some of the best projects I've worked on have resulted in long term friendships. It's not all roses and you do need to pave your own way sometimes, but if you look you will find like-minded individuals who will support you in your career. I'm pretty proud to say that my current employer has a global standard of networks specifically designed to support minority represented groups and foster inclusion and diversity in the workplace. I'm actively a part of their PRIDE (LGBTQI focus) and Women and Allies networks. There are also many professional groups that have mentor programs and other functions that facilitate networking and career support, such as WIM (Women In Mining), Women in Resources, SME, and many others.

  • Nancy Post , John Deere
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:04 AM

    When you move on to college, you will have classes with other female engineers and there are many different groups to join, both within engineering and aligned with other interests. I would encourage you to get involved to form relationships with your peers. Once you start your career, I think you will find that there are usually many choices for networking groups for women in general and for engineers. There are also networking groups formed around a common interest or background in many work environments that might also be interesting to you. One other great way to network is to ask for a mentor. If there is a formal program, you could use it and if there isn’t, I encourage you to ask a person who has more experience than you to mentor you. This is a great compliment to the person you ask and may be highly valuable to your career development. One last idea: you could initiate group mentoring. The way this works is to find a group of women who want to learn from each other, meet once a month and have a different person lead the group through a topic and discussion. I am part of a group like this and it is very rewarding. People may discuss a business book they found interesting, a work efficiency topic, or even share a slide deck they are working on for feedback from the group. In every case, we learn something and we continue to form a bond.

  • Erin Gately , EPEAT Conformity Assurance Manager
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:02 AM

    My university courses required a great deal of teams and teamwork. Participating in these teams helped me to find my “people” within the college of engineering. My degree was in Industrial Engineering and while I am not sure what enrollment is like now, at the time I was in university women were the majority in that discipline. I made great friends who I am friends with today, 28 years later! I also joined the Institute of Industrial Engineers (which is now Institute of Industrial and System Engineers) which helped give me access to mentors in the field. Those connections later led to a summer internship and eventually a job as an engineer in a fortune 500 company. Due to the high number of engineers at my work, there were myriad opportunities to connect with other engineers. Finally, I joined the Society of Women Engineers which helped keep me connected to other engineers.

  • Kara Kockelman , University of Texas at Austin
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 11:01 AM

    I found support in the students around me at the dorms, in year 1. Many were taking the same classes I was, even if we were in different engineering or other majors. Those people remained my friends throughout the 4 years, and I made many new friends in my civil engineering classes who were terrific and easy to spend time with on campus, and then call late at night, if I or they got stuck in solving homework problems & such.

    I also joined a sorority my first year, to avoid housing issues at my housing-constrained campuses in later years. That provided a wonderful social life, though almost no access to others in my classes. (I was the only engineer in that house until I was a junior or senior, when a fabulous ME entered.) You’ll meet loads of people and make very valuable friends through student clubs too – like service, sports, and honors organizations. Try to join at least one in your freshman year.

    One big tip if I also have is to make friends with some of the brightest people in your tough classes. Those fine minds really saved me on the toughest problems, for homework and test prep. Their suggestions (often late at night, via phone) made a massive difference in my understanding of the material and my overall GPA.

  • Merilyn Chesler ,
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 10:42 AM

    Most engineers work in teams but depending on the job will also need to work independently. When I was in college, I joined the SWE (Society of Women Engineers) network where I was able to participate in regular events off campus such as conventions and workshops. Joining the Anita Borg mailing list provided me with much networking support online and offline, as well. I attended a convention where the members of SWE and Anita Borg had a meetup and got to know one another. It was such a pleasant group. You too will find such opportunities as a college student and after you graduate. You will not be alone. Just reach out to the folks at SWE, Anita Borg, and join LinkedIn to access these and many other groups too.

  • Maja Mataric , University of Southern California
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 10:39 AM

    It’s really important to find a support group, even if it’s a group of one person (besides you :). The best advice I can give is to look for support groups for various dimensions of you as a person. So have some women you hang out with, in general. Then have some women engineers. Then some folks in your specific work area, male or female. Then get a couple of more senior people, male or female, to serve as your professional mentors. But also find someone you respect you can talk to occasionally who has nothing to do with your profession but just cares about your personal growth. Have friends outside of work who will support you in totally different ways that are just as important as work. It can take a while to build up a group, but sometimes it can be quite easy, like asking a person to lunch/coffee, using any excuse at all. Once there are two, there can be three, and so on. Keep trying; be the one that brings people together and soon you will feel the support of all those people and the community that gets created. I find that most people want to be part of supportive communities, so there is little risk in reaching out to people and connecting, but the best way to do so is in person.

  • Kristen Sanderson , GE Energy Management
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 9:49 AM

    Having a good support group is a great way to keep you going. At your work, you may be working in an environment with other people your age and gender and you may not. I encourage you to form a network. At work, I encourage you to look for diversity in that network of age, experience, gender, etc. As you move into your career and your life, there are many ways to form a group to support you. It can be at work, and it can also be outside of work where you live, at a gym, at a club or other activity you enjoy. I encourage you to look in all of these places to find what makes you comfortable.

  • Diana Manning , Base2 Solutions
    Answered Monday, May 20, 2019 at 9:40 AM

    For the majority of my career, I worked in teams. The teams were usually more diverse than my college experience, representing different parts of the country or world and different levels of experience and roles. A work team, however, is not necessarily the same as a support network – that is important to understand. Getting along with your workmates and learning from them is good, but the focus of the work team is getting the job done. Support networks have a different focus – that is to help its members grow either personally or in their careers. For that type of group, some companies provide a mechanism for forming such teams. Check with your manager or HR rep. If your company does not, I would suggest checking with a professional society like Society of Women Engineers or a mentorship group like Lean-In. They are focused on helping you grow.