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Fewer Duke Engineering Students Seek Finance Jobs

This story was written by Jin Noh, The Duke Chronicle

Four years ago, Vinay Lekharaju envisioned himself as an accomplished investment banker after college.

But like many other I-banking hopefuls, he has been forced to explore other careers due to the current financial crisis. Lekharaju now is a student in the Master of Engineering Management Program at the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering.

"I actually applied to quite a few companies and only got a few calls back," he said. "The economy makes it difficult and I don't see it improving. Friends of mine are more or less apprehensive to go into investment banking while many are being laid off."

Numbers show that many other financial job seekers from Pratt have turned to engineering instead.

Out of Pratt's MEM Class of 2008, 17 percent went into finance, according to MEM 2007-2008 employment statistics. But only about three students out of the 112-member MEM Class of 2009 are interested in financial jobs, according to data collected by BusinessWeek in November. Most of the others said they want to pursue engineering jobs.

Xiaoyu Wang, a senior who is double majoring in biomedical engineering and economics, said engineering is a traditional job that society is always going to need.

"Engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists-those are jobs that aren't hot because they don't have the glamour or the 'it' factor," he said. "But those people will always be in demand and, in times of economic slowdown, are still going to be in demand."

Engineers will always be needed to address many of today's serious problems, said Linda Franzoni, Pratt associate dean for student affairs. She said fields like the environment, medical technology and alternative energy will require the skill sets of engineers to create innovative solutions for their problems.

And especially given the shortage of engineers in companies in the last 10 to 15 years, the profession will likely remain in high demand, said George Truskey, chair of the biomedical engineering department.

"There has been a very heavy demand of engineers, such that we have needed to get engineers from foreign countries," he said. "With that, we have even needed to change our immigration laws."

Franzoni said an influx of more engineers would not be unusual because historically different engineering sectors have gone through oscillating periods of high and low employment.

"There have been times throughout history when certain engineering fields were popular and then fell out of popularity," she said. "It is probably expected that there will be cycles both in employment prospects and popularity in any given field."

Engineering may be a stable occupation, but people still need a background and commitment to engineering to pursue a career in it, Truskey said.

"Engineering is a pretty demanding program," he added. "You can't just say, 'the economy is bad and so I'll become an engineer.'"

Although Lekharaju said he will consider trying to get into financial services again when the economic situation improves, for now he will focus on pursuing a career in information technology consulting.

Wang said even though he thinks more students like Lekharaju might pursue investment banking jobs again when the financial crisis subsides, he doubts the field's popularity in the long-term.

"People usually go for what's hot," he said. "In the '90s, it was [information technology] and computers. Recently, it has been investment banking, but down the line it may be something else entirely. Hot jobs are going to pay the most, but it's never going to last."

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