Biomedical, mechanical, and chemical engineering majors have more difficulty finding jobs through the Center for Career Education’s career fairs than most of their peers in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, according to a report issued by the Engineering Student Council’s policy committee.
The report alleges that the makeup of firms CCE brought to its fall engineering career fair does not adequately reflect the number of majors in each SEAS department. A similar report, prepared by ESC in 2010, came to the same conclusion.
CCE administrators have said students with those majors would be better off seeking jobs outside of career fairs. Employers in highly specialized fields—like mechanical, biomedical, and chemical engineering—are less likely to spend the resources to attend a career fair at which only a relatively small number of students will have the skills necessary for employment.
While career fairs are suboptimal job-seeking methods for engineers in these majors, many remain unaware of other, more effective resources that CCE offers, and instead look to career fairs as an indicator of available career prospects.
Margaret Fei/Staff Designer
ESC’s 2016 report states that while 13.1 percent of SEAS’s graduating class in 2016 majored in biomedical engineering, just 2.1 percent of employers representing the field at career fairs were in the BME field. The situation is similar for mechanical engineers, who represent 15.2 percent of recent SEAS graduates but only 4 percent of the jobs available, and also for chemical engineers, who make up 10.1 percent of graduates but only 5.4 percent of jobs available at career fairs. Computer science and electrical engineering, by contrast, had far more jobs available.
In an interview with Spectator, Dean of CCE Kavita Sharma defended CCE’s support of BME and chemical engineering majors, saying she believed job prospects in those fields are better reached through means other than career fairs, including Columbia LionLink, meetings with CCE staff, and alumni networks.
“We need to do more to get information to students about the entirety of the employers that we’re working with and that every employer is not going to show up at the career fair, and that they’re not all the same, they don’t recruit in the same way,” Sharma said. “For some industries and majors, the job search is going to look different.”
Sharma said that career fairs—the focus of ESC’s reports—cannot appeal to all companies, and that students should not be limiting themselves to looking for jobs at career fairs.
“The focus on the career fair is the wrong focus, because there’s nothing in our literature or the way we advise students or even the way we’re set up that should lead students to think that the career fair is the representation of every industry,” Sharma said. “The career fair is a snapshot of the labor market, it’s a snapshot of who’s recruiting at this time, and it’s a snapshot of the employers who’ve got a big enough recruiting team and are interested in coming to Columbia.”
But several engineering students interviewed by Spectator expressed frustration because CCE’s career fairs didn’t have enough relevant resources for them—indicative of the widely held expectation that fairs are the first and best option for seeking jobs.
“I haven’t found career fairs to be helpful because of the lack of companies that hire BME out of there,” BME major Jacob Nye, SEAS ’18, said. “I’ve heard of people who’ve actually switched their majors to computer science, and thought of it myself at times during my time at Columbia, just because of the amount of jobs not only at career fairs, but on LionShare.”
“I’ll look at the list for the engineering career fairs, and there’ll be about two, maybe three companies that even are looking for mechanical engineers,” mechanical engineering major Jacob Greenberg, SEAS ’17, said. “Most recently, I stood in line for an hour and a half to get in and then stood in 20-minute lines to talk to just two companies.”
In an effort to increase the number of career resources for biomedical engineers, clubs such as the Biomedical Engineering Society have reached out to BME firms to bring them to campus for industry-specific showcases. In some cases, certain companies that have agreed to showcases were reached by student groups, rather than CCE.
Courtney Como, CCE’s executive director of employer and alumni relations, said that this is due to the much smaller and more company-specific atmosphere of a showcase.
“A showcase is a much different event,” Como said in an interview with Spectator. “They know that they’re talking to students who are really interested in their company, whereas at a career fair, it’s 1,200 students trying to navigate the auditorium and may not be as focused as at an industry showcase. For some employers, that’s a better use of their time.”
Nye said CCE could do more to support BME students.
“It’s not like there aren’t BME companies out there hiring,” Nye, BMES’s professional development committee co-chair, said. “They do exist, it’s just that Columbia hasn’t built the relationships with them, so we’re having to build them ourselves.”
Sharma encouraged students to seek out all available resources for careers, not just career fairs, by reaching out to CCE.
“To help you get started, come chat with someone, because actually what we can help you do is think about not overinvesting in that career fair,” Sharma said.