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To what extend does choice of undergraduate dissertation matter when applying for engineering jobs? I understand that a company will value a dissertation that is closely linked to the work they do, however do they also value dissertations that are only roughly related? I'm concerned I chose my dissertation mostly because I liked the professor and found the project interesting, without much concern for it's job prospects.

I also understand there is a lot more to a dissertation than how beneficial it is to your career, but I'm still intrigued to know how much weighting a future employer will place on it.

  • My dissertation is mainly focused around robotics, and while that's likely my ideal field I also understand how competitive that can be – Harrison Fretwell Aug 15 at 11:30
  • In my understanding it also varies across your dissertation topic, employers and the country. Consider adding a country tag as it may be helpful in seeking relevant answers. Shedding some light on the dissertation topic may help as well. – Nimesh Neema Aug 15 at 12:20
  • University experience does two things: helps get you interviews, and gives you a topic of technical discussion during interviews. On your resume write it up as its results: "designed and build a walking robot" rather than "My diissertation title was blah blah blah." – O. Jones Aug 16 at 11:01
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It's important to place some context around your question. It sounds like you're still in school and are considering your first job after school. Employers look at fresh grads slightly differently than experienced staff, and in general, school-related attributes become less and less important as you gain more years of working experience. As a hiring manager, if I'm looking at people with 5 or more years of working experience, I hardly even care to know where they went to school or what they studied, in most cases.

While employers are obviously interested in finding candidates who have knowledge and skills in a specific field, they are also looking for candidates who can commit and get things done. People who are able to understand a problem, research and plan, come up with a solution, and then execute that solution are highly valuable. When looking at experienced candidates, it's somewhat straightforward to determine a candidate's ability to execute by talking about their actual work experience. When interviewing fresh grads, this is a much harder question to answer. You can expect a grad will have the "book knowledge" from their classes, but how to do know if they can actually get things done?

To answer your question in that context, the mere fact that you carried out an undergrad dissertation and were able to complete it will be the most important factor. The subject of that effort will likely be secondary, except in very specific niche cases (for instance, if your dissertation was related to solving a specific problem that a specific employer was facing, obviously that one employer would be interested!)

So - while you do want to pay attention to being employable, that doesn't just hinge on picking the right topic from the employer's perspective. It's important to pick something you're interested in enough that you will have the motivation to carry it out. And make sure you're staying mindful of lessons learned along the way - not just the engineering knowledge you're gaining, but also things like:

  • How do you resolve conflict?
  • How do you keep track of, and deal with, issues or obstacles?
  • What do you do when your project depends on some other person and that person isn't delivering?
  • How do you handle pressure and deadlines?

Being able to speak about those things in an interview, and show that you've gained execution skills in addition to engineering skills, will put you in a good place in terms of being employable immediately after school.

  • I think you make a great point in picking a dissertation that I have the most motivation to do, and I'm glad that I made the right choice, thanks for your input. – Harrison Fretwell Aug 15 at 14:00
  • Let that process be self-reflective in terms of your job search, too. New grads sometimes get focused on the best job or even just any job and forget to pursue things that they actually have a passion for. It seems obvious but you'll be happiest if you focus your job search on positions and organizations that you will find personally satisfying, instead of chasing money, or title, or power, or specific brand names. – dwizum Aug 15 at 14:29
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Undergraduate topics likely don't matter all that much - especially within a discipline (like engineering). A robotics dissertation will be just as impressive to a company that builds software as one that builds robotic vacuums, and would be considered similarly to any impressive engineering dissertation.

Future employers are likely to consider your dissertation topic from the perspective of:

  1. Did you pursue challenging work?
  2. Did you collaborate with a number of diverse individuals?
  3. Did you pursue a topic that has meaning for the world?
  4. Did you complete the effort and add new knowledge to an important topic?

Employers aren't likely to look at your dissertation as a knowledge credential. It's far more likely you'll need to learn quite a bit on the job regardless of how relevant your work is to your previous studies.

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I got my first job out of college because of my bachelors thesis (related to computer aided software engineering), and the hiring manager told me so at the time. How likely is this to occur? Hard to tell. However, I was steered to that job by my recruiter, who was quite capable. She filtered out poor matches and used what she knew about me, including my thesis and undergrad courseload, to direct me to suitable opportunities. I had two other job offers; one company was pursuing work related to a different aspect of my thesis (word processing and digital typography) and the other my physics work.

When I graduated college, there was no internet. Today, however, there are many websites that tally the most sought after skills - computer languages, libraries, hardware topics, etc. You can also get salary ranges. It is possible, given several potential thesis topics, to probe their usefulness in getting a job.

I work at a firm that recruits many interns. Some of them we go on to hire full time. Narrow specialty in an area of current interest to us is an important factor, but not the most important. Here are the critical things we look for:

  1. Intellectual curiosity. Extra-curricular interest in engineering ranks high. One of our interns rides to work on an electric bicycle he built himself. He is also certified to operate a nuclear reactor, builds and tests rockets, and too many other things to mention.
  2. Generality. Our projects constantly change. We like people who can learn new things quickly and are working to achieve competence - not mastery - in many things.
  3. Cutting edge skills. We have adopted new techniques solely on the recommendation of our interns. They do a POC, give a presentation, and we decide if we want to include that in our projects going forward. We often do.
  4. Team spirit. We don't like arrogant people, as interns or as permanent staff. I was explaining an algorithm of mine to an intern. He spotted an unnecessary and costly step. I made the change, happily.
  5. Flexibility. Some interns or staff are on a project for months or years, others bounce around every few weeks to something new or have to juggle several simultaneously.
  6. Personality. The ability to get along with everyone on the team is important. We have staff from all around the world, and agreeableness ranks highly.

Every company has their own criteria for hiring, but matching a narrow specialty is a small part of the picture. However, since many of the softer attributes I mentioned above can only be assessed after an interview is granted, possessing a unique skill desired by the employer may be the deciding factor in getting the interview in the first place.

There is another way that care in choosing your thesis topic may serve you well. Becoming a rare expert in ANYTHING AT ALL is valuable. Choosing a topic that is unusual and stands out in some way can't hurt you.

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If you are going to be applying for jobs in a directly related field then yes, it might be somewhat relevant - it shows you have got a genuine interest and you might even be able to bring some of your findings to the job. But it's only going to be either a positive, in that rare case, or fairly irrelevant.

What is going to be more important, for a graduate hire role is how you explain why you chose that topic, and what you got out of it (Assuming they ask about it). Saying you chose a topic at least partially based around the relationship with the professor isn't a negative either. A lot of work is about building up relationships.

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