Posts Tagged ‘http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12064.html’

Dear MEMP Students,

Recently there has been mention of the “T-shaped individual” in articles
about engineers, out-sourcing, etc. Actually, companies like IBM have
been talking about T-shaped individuals for quite some time. No,
T-shaped does not refer to ones physical appearance! The most recent
reference I have seen to the T-shaped individual was from the National
Research Council conducting a study for the National Academies (“Science
Professionals: Master’s Education for a Competitive World
,” National
Research Council). It was only while reading this most recent article that I understood the importance
of this term and its relevance to the MEM program. Let me explain.
Loosely translated, the T refers to the fact that an individual has both
deep knowledge in a specific area such as the discipline in which they
have studied engineering or science (the stem of the T indicating depth)
as well as a breadth of skills in different areas, such as business,
management and communication (the top of the T indicating breadth).
This breadth of skills enables an individual to implement their
expertise in the real world. Thus, most companies require that
individuals be T-shaped in order to be effective. As one moves up in
their career, the depth of expertise may decrease but you will always
have this base expertise to draw on and your judgment in this base
expertise area will be superior to judgment in other areas. As you
reach the highest levels of an organization I would suggest that the top
of the T both extends and thickens such that you develop deeper
expertise in a range of areas. You may replace the technical stem of
the T with areas such as strategy and personnel management if you reach
the executive suite of an organization.

Why is all this important to you? First, it is exactly what the MEM
program is trying to develop in each of you. We expect that you come in
with an expertise in some field of engineering or science. We are
trying to provide the top of the T (your core courses) while
simultaneously strengthening the stem of the T (i.e., the technical
electives). Of course, depending on what technical electives you
choose, you may be extending the top of the T with your elective
courses, which is fine. However, what I have observed which I do not
think is healthy for your career or a good way to look at the MEM
program, is that some of you expect to move the stem of your T to a
different area in one year! 🙂 It simply is not viable to develop the
top of your T and move the base of your T in a single year program.
Thus, keep in mind that the vast majority of companies will look at your
undergraduate degree (i.e., technical knowledge and skills from your
undergraduate degree and any work experience) as the stem of the T and
will look at general courses as the top of the T; enabling you to apply
your technical knowledge to company issues. This is not to say that
your technical knowledge cannot be applied to different applications –
certainly it can! But it is best to think of the technical knowledge as
one of the key reasons that an employer will want to hire you, not as
something you can change within the one year MEM program. And in many
cases obtaining a deeper technical knowledge while simultaneously
strengthening the top of the T will be viewed as very favorable by the
companies hiring you from the MEM program. If you want to learn more
about the T-shaped individual concept and understand different
interpretations, you can simply Google it and find a number of references.

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