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Woman in Engineering

  • 1.  Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-01-2017 01:36 PM
    I am a female engineering intern with a PhD in environmental engineering. I worked for 10 years in state government, 5 years at engineering firms and 10 years in academia as an assistant professor. I retired a couple of years ago with 20 years with the state of Louisiana thinking I would go to work for an engineering firm. I am 61, in good health and full of energy. While not ready to really retire I cannot seem to get anyone interested in even interviewing me though I never had this problem when I was younger.  With so much to offer, what more can I do to make myself more marketable?

    Barbara Benson EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Crowley LA


  • 2.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-01-2017 03:36 PM

    Hi Barbara,

    I don’t have very much insight to share, except to commiserate. An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that while I found my two first full time jobs with relative ease, going through the “front door” (job add on the consulting company’s website - interview - offer), for the last couple years I’ve been applying periodically through consulting companies’ websites, mostly to see what the outlook is for finding a job when I am finally ready to start working full time again. Well, I haven’t heard back from any. I’d think that more experience and P.E. certification that I’ve gotten since then, would increase my chances…

    My speculation is that my resume gets bounced off in the HR stage of the review. The problem (again in my speculation) is that the jobs I was applying for, while in the same general discipline of environmental engineering and water resources, don’t exactly match my previous job. Maybe the same is the case with you?  Another speculation is that, while I am more than ready and qualified to learn new tasks, a person in charge of hiring might prefer someone fresh out of college to a more experienced/expensive professional.

    Yet another speculation - I got my first jobs in 2005 and 2007, respectively. These were good years for the economy and water/wastewater sector, and even the companies I’ve worked for have laid off some people since then.

    I’ve always shied away from networking. But, it seems, that this is the way to go. Have you tried talking to your contacts from previous jobs? Participating in ASCE and other professional events?

    I am just beginning to look for contract jobs (may have the first one starting soon). Would you like to exchange resumes, so if I hear of some position or subcontract, I could pass it on to you?

    Best luck in your job search!

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E., M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 3.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-02-2017 09:37 AM
    Is it feasible for you to get a P.E. so you can work as an independent consultant?  Assuming that the area of expertise that you developed while in academia is in demand (and most environmental topics seem to be), with a P.E. and Ph.D., you should be very marketable as a subconsultant in your area of expertise.  Expert witness work might also be an option for you.  In that context, having many years of experience is more of an asset than a drawback.

    Ellen Stevens P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Oklahoma City OK

  • 4.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-02-2017 09:49 AM
    I would suggest you get your P.E. certification, which in your case with the experience you have had, should be no problem.  Then you can start your own business, designing water and sewer lines, pumping stations drainage facilities.You can approach the firms you worked at and ask them to assign you projects on a contract basis. You can also do your own marketing.  After a few years, you can register yourself as a minority owned business entity with your state and the federal government.

    I started my own consulting business in the same way, while working with a government agency after obtaining permission to to do so.

    Jamal Nagamia P.E., M.ASCE
    Temple Terrace FL
    (813) 988-0727

  • 5.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-02-2017 02:22 PM
    Dear Barbara:

    Two things I see on your attached credentials that could cause lower interest.
    1. no PE.  This has been addressed before.  The lack of a PE shows that you chose not to get it, or you could not get it.  Many profs don't get their license because they don't have to, and I think you are seeing some of that come to haunt you.
    2.  Ph.D.'s scare some, especially younger engineers without them.  They think that you want to take over.  I have had two managers that told me that after they left the position of being my manager.

    Like Natasha said, networking could be your savior.  Assuming that you were a reasonably well thought of prof, some of your former students should have reached the level of responsibility to be on the teams hiring people.  Invite them out to lunch, find out what they need, and give them an idea of where you could help them.  Tell them what your plans are.  I suggest that a 10-year work horizon makes it worth their time to retrain you to their corporate mentality.  I know that when I jumped to the private sector from the public sector, the networking was key, but also demonstrating that you understand their business model was also important.  They said that they had previously tried government employees, and that they had about a 70% resignation rate over the course of the first year.

    Perhaps to get some practical design experience, find a group like Engineers Without Borders and give away some of your time.  Groups like that have all levels of experience, and can provide opportunities to network and demonstrate how you could perform as a part of their team.

    Dwayne Culp Ph.D., P.E., P.Eng, M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Richmond TX

  • 6.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-02-2017 03:58 PM

    As an engineer roughly the same age, you are probably seeing age discrimination in the private sector.  I was laid off by private consulting firms and replaced by much younger engineers twice in the past 10 years and was lucky to join the federal government 4 years ago.  Before last November I would have suggested that to you but obviously not now.  Returning to state government work might be an easier path and your lack of PE would not be as much of a concern.  Of course it depends on if the states are hiring, but with possible infrastructure funding, maybe they will be.  

    Another issue with private firms is that the would expect an engineer at your level to be able to sell and bring in work.  If you have that ability and established connections that would help a lot. 

    Good luck.

    Daniel O'Connell G.E., P.E., M.ASCE
    Geotechnical engineer
    Troy VA

  • 7.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-02-2017 04:17 PM
    I think you need to stress your ability to mentor younger engineers. I recently switched companies to be closer to home, and they specifically mentioned they wanted senior engineers with ability to mentor their young college graduates. I hope to work for only a few more years as I am almost 65 years old.

    Dennis Keitel P.E., F.ASCE
    Senior Project Engineer
    Bettendorf IA
    (563) 424-3694

  • 8.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-07-2017 09:37 AM

    I got my PE in Texas in 1970 via hard work, education and examination.  It has paid off over the years.  I also do expert testimony work which is really being hampered here because "Tort Reform" is being used by Wall Street subsidized contractors and insurance companies so the consumer and small business has a hard time now taking anything to trial.  They are forced to arbitrate and they then lose.

    What I see in your background is your ability to teach engineering, principles, and calculations, without having to resort to a computer.  As a PE, you could still do expert testimony work in Louisiana of a special kind because I have been seeing here in Texas that many young engineers who also go into this kind of work cannot do calculations to underpin their arguments.  They are dependent on computer software and easy for me to defeat because they can't replicate the calculations by hand, so I help a lot of lawyers settle their cases as a "real engineer."  Not only could you do expert testimony work, you could serve as an independent consultant for younger engineers who don't have the ability to do calculations.

    Caution about Louisiana politics.  Contractors seem to be gaining strength over the Louisiana board.  I see in the February 2017 LAPELS board journal that the American Council of Engineering Companies is now involved with that board and I have heard that they are more business oriented than oriented toward professionalism.   Instead of PE's telling contractors what to do and rejecting their work if they don't do, politically it is the other way around here.  We have had big troubles with them or a similar organization here in Texas. 


    Thomas Melton P.E., M.ASCE
    Amstar Engineering, Inc.
    Austin TX


  • 9.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-02-2017 05:41 PM
    My advice is unique to the list.  Find some clients. If you are a rainmaker, and identify work to go after, several of the consulting firms are likely to want to add your resume to their team and take you to interviews.   Many engineers wait for someone else to provide work for their desk. Instead, imagine you are the leader of the firm that you want to join. If a candidate presents herself with three proposal / project opportunities and has estimated the number of hours necessary and support functions needed from their firm and offers to work with the organization to share contacts and work.  You might suggest you are willing to collaborate on a pro bono or hourly basis to attend interviews and draft proposals.  Invite someone within the firm to lunch and pitch several ideas.  Now I've got a new, senior level employee candidate who understands that work needs to be found, estimated, contracted for and then performed.  Just asking to perform the work someone else reels in is not the function of someone with your level of pay.  At your experience level, people are expected to make / use their contacts to find work, navigate the proposal process - get on the short list and get work awarded. Show them you are interested and willing to do that and you will get more interest.

    Lynne Baker A.M.ASCE
    HKA Global formerly Hill International Claims Consulting
    San Diego CA

  • 10.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-03-2017 10:16 AM
    It sounds like you have a lot to offer!  Like some others have mentioned, why not consider volunteering your expertise for a good cause like Engineers without Borders?  There are a so many other non-profits or not-for-profits related to water resources that I'm sure would love and appreciate your knowledge, too!  I would not limit yourself to the private sector or consulting arena.

    Christina Bryz-Gornia P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
    Ellicott City MD

  • 11.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-04-2017 05:37 PM

         I am sorry that you are having difficulty finding a new position. I hope all else is well. You have gotten some great advice. Some of the best I saw (which I can't find now) mentioned how they opened with the fact that were in the last 1/4 of their career. A similar tact with the PE may also be helpful. Many companies are looking for someone who can effectively communicate difficult news to clients in a positive manner.

         I imagine part of the problem is the economy in south Louisiana seems to be lagging; that will change if oil prices rebound. I assume that you are not really mobile, although taking a temporary position somewhere like Houston might be a way to stay active while looking for something more permanent.

         Like others have mentioned, lack of a PE is likely the major stumbling block. I would assume that you have sufficient experience if you pass the PE exam; if so, I suggest that you take it ASAP; it is not difficult. If you do not have sufficient experience that LAPELS will count (I don't recall their position on academic time), I would take the PE as an early taker. If LAPELS does not allow that, find somewhere that does (you can do in NV, I know; not sure about other states). That way, there is no gamble for an employer - it is just a matter of time to get your PE.

         I also suggest offering your services as an "on call" employee (sans PE) or consultant (with PE). In my experience, many companies like the "no commitment" arrangement because they don't have to pay you if they don't have work. Those are negatives for you, but it might lead to a full-time position down the road. This may be better done on a casual basis; otherwise it may come off as desperate. I suggest going to a LOT of professional meetings and introduce yourself as "I retired early, but I would not mind doing some part-time work to stay current."

        Good luck! Feel free to contact me directly if I can help.


    Donald Hayes PhD, P.E., BCEE, F.ASCE
    Chair and Professor, Dept of Civil & Environmental Engineering
    Las Vegas NV

  • 12.  RE: Woman in Engineering

    Posted 03-06-2017 09:36 AM
    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my question. It has been helpful. I am trying to prepare to take the PE.

    Barbara C. Benson, PhD, EI