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Engineering Majors and Potential Jobs

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Engineering pairs a healthy amount of creativity with science, and engineers often need both design savvy and a strong foundation in theory. From creating the next super long-distance airplane to developing chemical compounds, engineering comprises many specialties and subdivisions. And the resulting engineering-based careers are just as varied. Here you’ll find a look at many of the core engineering disciplines, plus an idea of the education you’ll get if you study them and a list of potential engineering careers.

Click on the links below to go to a specific section.
- Aerospace Engineering
- Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Engineering, General
- Engineering Science
- Engineering Technology
- Environmental Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Metallurgic Engineering

- Mining Engineering/Mineral Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Ocean Engineering
- Petroleum Engineering
- Software Engineering

Aerospace Engineering

Also known as “aeronautical engineering” or “astronautical engineering,” this is the study of the design, construction, and operation of aircraft. Today, the term “aerospace engineering” has been broadened to mean the design, construction, and operation of all vehicles that operate above the Earth’s surface. Within this major are incorporated topics including fuselage design, wing design, structural design, structural requirements, propulsion mechanisms, fuel types, guidance and instrumentation systems, auxiliary equipment, and production.

Education

The plan of study for aerospace engineering is a demanding one. Core courses include basic engineering theory, physics, and calculus and differential equations, which lead to specialized study of topics including aerodynamics, wind flow, computer programming, and flight simulation. Students also may be expected to conduct their own experiments under the supervision of an instructor.

Possible careers

•    aerospace engineer
•    aircraft design engineer
•    astronaut
•    astrophysicist
•    college professor
•    commercial pilot
•    entrepreneur
•    flight engineer
•    lawyer
•    meteorologist
•    technical writer
•    test pilot

 

Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering

Bioengineering and biomedical engineering are often used interchangeably to describe the study of the application of engineering knowledge to the fields of medicine and biology. Bioengineering applies engineering principles to living things. It stands at the intersection of engineering, medicine, and the natural and physical sciences. It combines design engineering and biological knowledge to create devices, design operations, and invent techniques to prolong or improve the health and well-being of humans and animals. Bioengineering includes the development of prosthetic devices used to replace lost or nonfunctional parts of the body, dialysis methodologies, genomic therapies, hip and knee implantations, and techniques for vascular bypass surgery.

Education

The plan of study follows the structure of all engineering programs, with physics, chemistry, calculus, and engineering sciences at the lower-division level and more engineering course work and supervised research at the upper-division level. In some colleges, the bioengineering or biomedical specialty is an augment to a major in a traditional engineering area, such as mechanical, civil, electrical, or chemical. Course work in physiology, corrosion, corrosion fatigue, signal acquisition and transmission, and modeling of physiological systems is stressed. Independent, supervised projects in current topics are required.

Possible careers

•    bioengineer
•    biomedical engineer
•    college professor
•    lawyer
•    materials engineer
•    mechanical engineer
•    medical consultant
•    physician
•    physiologist
•    reliability engineer
•    research scientist

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering is the study of materials, chemicals, or compounds that make processes work or fill production specifications or needs. The chemical engineer studies the effects of chemicals or compounds on one another and seeks ways to ameliorate or reverse undesirable effects, such as pollution. Another aim is the discovery of new, more advanced chemicals or compounds. Knowledge of the principles of heat transfer, flow of fluids, filtration processes, distillation, extraction, fermentation, and chemical kinetics are but a few of the chemical engineer’s skills.

Education

The plan of study typically begins with two years of foundation in physics, chemistry (both organic and physical), mathematics through advanced calculus, and engineering topics. At the upper-division level, more advanced work in the various topics mentioned above is emphasized, culminating in the final semesters with extensive laboratory projects.

Possible careers

•    chemical engineer
•    college professor
•    environmental engineer
•    lawyer
•    management consultant
•    metallurgist
•    petroleum engineer
•    plant manager
•    plastics engineer
•    product designer
•    production engineer
•    research chemist
•    research scientist
•    technical writer 

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is concerned with the design and construction of dams, bridges, buildings, roads, and water supply systems. Today the scope of interest of the civil engineer has widened to respond to the growing problems of a complex society including housing, pollution control, waste disposal, and the conservation of water resources.

Education

The plan of study begins with physics, chemistry, calculus and advanced calculus, and introductory engineering courses at the lower-division level. Later, more specialized engineering topics are emphasized, such as materials, structural mechanics, structural design, computer programming, and computer graphics. During the final semesters, supervised individual projects are completed; field work or internship experiences may be included. Civil engineers need a professional engineer’s (PE) license to practice in many states. This may require graduate study to obtain.

Possible careers

•    civil engineer
•    college professor
•    consultant
•    contractor
•    design engineer
•    lawyer
•    materials engineer
•    structural engineer
•    systems engineer
•    waterworks engineer  

Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is the study of the range of systems that depend upon electricity for their operations from the smallest cell phone to the largest power generator. Electrical engineers today function in a broad range of areas that include fiber optics, electronics, computers, communications systems, and microcircuits, as well as environmental control, biomedical engineering, and magnetics and power generation. Electrical engineers also work in aerospace, automobile design, high technology, and education. This major has both theoretical and applied aspects to it.

Education

The plan of study requires a firm grounding in basic engineering concepts, along with expertise in physics, chemistry, and mathematics through calculus. At the upper-division level, subjects of interest include circuit theory, electricity and magnetism, systems analysis, and computer programming for engineers; the program culminates in a supervised design project.

Possible careers

•    aerospace engineer
•    automotive engineer
•    college professor
•    design engineer
•    electrical engineer
•    environmental engineer
•    management consultant
•    military officer
•    patent lawyer
•    pilot
•    power company manager
•    production engineer
•    research engineer
•    technical writer 

Engineering, general

The engineering major is usually organized in one of two ways: as an offering of a school, department, institute, or center for engineering; or as an “engineering and applied sciences” curriculum. Competition is generally keen in colleges offering either mode of organization. Colleges vary widely, however, in specific engineering programs. Most provide great flexibility in programming to allow students to elect dual majors such as engineering/mathematics, engineering/physics, or engineering/computer sciences. The wide range of choice among the available programs must caution the reader to examine college catalogs carefully and to seek personal advisement from the admissions office or directly from the engineering faculty. Job prospects for graduates with an engineering degree are excellent, with among the highest starting salaries available. However, the major is demanding; frequently students choose to take another semester or two to graduate in order to accomplish their goals.

Education

Students should expect to spend the first 3 to 4 semesters getting a solid foundation in science, math, engineering technology, computing, and the humanities and social sciences. By choosing engineering electives in the areas of interest, students will have the chance to decide where to specialize later in their academic career. Each specialty is distinct and requires research before choosing a direction. In the “engineering and applied sciences” curriculum, students are exposed to a broad range of courses in the life sciences, the social sciences, mathematics, and electives.

Possible careers

•    aerospace engineer
•    industrial engineer
•    college professor
•    consultant
•    corporate executive
•    electrical engineer
•    environmentalist
•    mechanical engineer
•    military officer
•    patent attorney
•    technical writer  

Engineering Science

One of the more rigorous undergraduate majors, engineering science combines the fundamentals of classical and modern physics, chemistry, and mathematics with engineering applications. A great quality of the program is its flexibility. With a strong background in physics and math, bolstered by a selection of engineering courses, the student is well prepared to confront many of the complex problems faced by society. Because the program emphasizes science and mathematics, students also are well-prepared to pursue graduate studies in physics or engineering, and many do.

Education

The plan of study begins with extensive work in physics and math, followed by work in statistics, computers, and chemistry. After introductory course work in engineering principles, the student pursues studies in the field of engineering of greatest interest. Precise course requirements must be pursues with close faculty involvement.

Possible careers

•    actuary
•    aircraft designer
•    astronomer
•    astrophysicist
•    business analyst
•    college professor
•    electrical engineer
•    electrical research engineer
•    electronic controls engineer
•    engineering physicist
•    mathematician
•    physicist
•    project engineer
•    quality control engineer
•    software design engineer
•    test engineer  

Engineering Technology

Engineering technology is a more practical, hands-on course of study compared to other engineering majors. Found at both the Associate and Bachelor’s level, it is designed to give the student practical training in the installation, maintenance, and operation of engineering systems, their components, and instruments. Engineering technologists should have an understanding of both the design and the operation of systems. They are skilled problem-solvers who keep operations going. Students concentrate in one particular area of engineering technology: telecommunications, computers, electronics, construction, drafting, and surveying, to name a few. Given the vital role engineering technologists play, job prospects are good.

Education

Students take the full array of courses required for all engineering majors and then further specialize in their specific engineering technology. Given the hands-on nature of this major, co-op or internship placements will be a key part of the course of study.

Possible careers

•    automobile industry
•    broadcasting/education
•    chemical processing
•    construction
•    consultants
•    design engineers
•    digital systems
•    managers
•    power generation
•    systems engineers  

Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering is the study of technologies that conserve limited material and energy resources. There are two sides to this task: reducing environmental hazards and converting potential liabilities into energy-related assets. More than simply a pure engineering science, this major requires a broad understanding of ecology; the effects of pollutants on natural resources, animals and human beings; and the application of engineering principles to elements that are endangering the environment.

Education

The plan of study includes a strong background in engineering concepts, physics, chemistry, and calculus. At the upper-division level, engineering courses are supplemented with studies in biology and ecology to provide the necessary background for a synthesis of the fields of engineering and environmental study. In the senior year, opportunities for internships or directed field experience may be available.

Possible careers

•    college professor
•    consultant
•    ecologist
•    environmental engineer
•    environmental lawyer
•    lecturer
•    pollution control engineer
•    pollution officer
•    research scientist
•    teacher
•    technical writer  

Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineering, also titled “manufacturing engineering,” entails the study of the organization and conduct of manufacturing operations. The industrial engineer designs manufacturing systems and attempts to predict, control, and evaluate the results obtained from such systems. This major prepares the student to answer these questions: How can we reengineer today’s enterprises for the rigors of tomorrow’s economy? How do we make manufacturing and service organizations more adaptable to the continuous need for change? Which processes and organizational structures foster collaboration and team work?

Education

The plan of study for this major is to be interdisciplinary. After a background in physics, chemistry, calculus, and engineering topics in the lower division, focus in the upper division is given to engineering topics like quality management, plant engineering, and facilities design. Upper level courses will be project-based and require group work. Students may want to investigate internships or co-op placements, if available.

Possible careers

•    college professor
•    engineering management
•    heat-transfer technician
•    industrial consultant
•    industrial engineer
•    industrial management
•    industrial psychologist
•    lawyer
•    plant engineer
•    quality management
•    reliability engineer
•    sales representative
•    technical writer 

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is the study of the application of engineering principles to mechanical problems. Mechanical engineers deal with a wide range of activities including research and development, invention, design, construction or operation, and even the sales of mechanical products. The mechanical engineer’s expertise extends from construction of simple and complex machinery to power generation, machines and tools for heavy industry, pollution and the environment, and consumer products.

Education

The plan of study, as in all engineering fields, demands solid competency in physics, chemistry, and mathematics through calculus. At the upper-division level, subjects include mechanics of solids and fluids, conversion of energy, feedback and control, analysis and design, air pollution, materials processing, and automated manufacturing. The senior year involves an actual design project under faculty supervision.

Possible careers

•    automotive engineer
•    college instructor
•    consultant
•    design engineer
•    industrial engineer
•    lawyer
•    mechanical engineer
•    military officer
•    reliability engineer
•    research engineer
•    salesperson
•    technical writer  

Metallurgic Engineering

Metallurgic engineering is the study of the structure, properties, performance, and treatment of metals. It includes the processing of ores and minerals, extracting and refining metals by chemical means, and the melting, alloying, and casting of metals. While a district field, it is closely related to materials science and materials engineering, which also study metals, ceramics, polymers, and fabrics.

Education

The lower division emphasizes physics, chemistry, the engineering sciences, and calculus as a foundation. Junior and senior years are taken with topics including structure of materials, ceramics, and polymers; thermodynamics; heat transfer and diffusion; metallurgical fuels; and crystal structure of metals. Internship experiences and supervised field research are integral parts of the major.

Possible careers

•    chemical engineer
•    college instructor
•    foundry manager
•    geologist
•    industrial researcher
•    lawyer
•    machinist
•    metallurgical engineer
•    mining engineer
•    petroleum engineer
•    quality control specialist
•    sales representative
•    welding engineer  

Mining Engineering/Mineral Engineering

Mining engineering/mineral engineering is the study of the design and building of machines, devices, and structures used to take mineral from the earth. As a career specialty, it demands the understanding of the entire mining process from exploration and mineral separation to smelting and refining technology. As a baccalaureate study, quality training can be found at only a select number of colleges. Students should search for programs that are recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Today there is a shortage of mining engineers, both in the United States and across the globe, so job prospects are good.

Education

The plan of study begins with a solid grounding in laboratory chemistry and physics and advanced mathematics. Electives in elementary mining courses are available. At the upper-division level planning, design, and operation of mining facilities are studied. Course work encompasses development and economics of mining projects, mining analysis, exploration techniques, and smelting technology. Field experiences in the senior year are an integral part of the study.

Possible careers

•    chemical engineer
•    construction engineer
•    environmental engineer
•    mechanical engineer
•    metallurgist
•    mining engineer
•    refinery manager
•    research scientist
•    stress analyst
•    structural engineer
•    technical writer  

Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineering is the study of the use and control of energy and radiation released from nuclear fusion reactions. It includes the study of the development, design, and construction of power reactors, nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and radioactive waste-disposal facilities; research and development; fuel management; safety analysis; and operation and testing of facilities and equipment. Additional areas of application include nuclear medicine, space power, environmental research, and the use of radiation in industrial processes.

Education

Few undergraduate colleges offer a true major in nuclear engineering. Those that do frequently provide a choice between two programs: a four-year B.S. degree program with a joint major with an engineering focus or a five-year B.S./M.S. curriculum. All entail core course work in basic engineering for the first two years, specialty course work in nuclear engineering topics for the following year or year-and-a-half, then directed field work or extended projects under faculty supervision for the remaining time. The five-year program ordinarily culminates in a master’s thesis or project.

Possible careers

•    college instructor
•    consultant
•    government engineer
•    health physicist
•    lawyer
•    military officer
•    nuclear engineer
•    nuclear physicist
•    nuclear reactor operator
•    plant designer
•    plant engineer
•    radioactive waste manager
•    reliability engineer
•    technical writer  

Ocean Engineering

Ocean engineering is the study of the effective and efficient use of the oceans and ocean-bound environments. It is an interdisciplinary study encompassing engineering, ecology, and architecture. Students are taught to recognize, analyze, and respond in creative and imaginative ways to problems dealing with the ocean environments. Concerns of the ocean engineer may include oil and gas exploration, mining the ocean’s mineral resources, designing deep water ports, planning new uses for waterways, improving marine transportation, and protecting marine wildlife and coastal regions from oil and other pollution. This major should not be confused with marine engineering, which focuses on the operation of seagoing vessels. As with many engineering fields, the profession is demanding, but the job prospects are good.

Education

The plan of study begins with a strong grounding in physics, chemistry, engineering sciences, and calculus. At the upper-division level, extensive course work focuses on engineering design topics, which is supplemented with work in biology, ecology, ocean systems technology, and related areas. Supervised individual research, field research in current topics, or internships/externships may be required.

Possible careers

•    college professor
•    ecologist
•    environmental lawyer
•    management consultant
•    marine biologist
•    marine engineer
•    military officer
•    ocean engineer
•    reliability engineer
•    research scientist
•    technical writer  

Petroleum Engineering

Petroleum engineers may work on specific production-related challenges in a technical area or may work to solve broad technical challenges within an organization. Petroleum engineers apply their skills to deep drilling on land, off-shore drilling, shallow-water drilling, and related skills. Petroleum engineers primarily work with nature. Unlike most engineering disciplines that rely on manmade materials, petroleum engineers rely on exploration and discovery. Many aspects of civil, chemical, and mechanical engineering have had an impact on today’s petroleum engineering specialty. Job prospects in this field are quite good, with the demand for petroleum engineers currently exceeding the supply.

Education

The plan of study encompasses, at the lower-division level, physics, organic and inorganic chemistry, and engineering topics. At the upper-division level, work in well-drilling, reservoir analysis, petroleum production, and the laws of oil and gas drilling complete the program. Some colleges may offer an externship experience for a semester, in addition to a supervised project.

Possible careers

•    chemical engineer
•    college professor
•    drilling supervisor
•    drilling technician
•    geologist
•    management consultant
•    mining engineer
•    petroleum engineer
•    platform manager
•    refinery manager
•    reliability  

Software Engineering

Software engineering plays a critical role in our lives, from banking systems to telephone systems to home entertainment. Medical diagnosis and treatment couldn’t be done without it. Software engineers specify, design, implement, test, and support software systems in a team environment. The major combines the essentials of electrical and mechanical engineering, together with fundamentals of computer science, to create software products for use in business, education, science, industry, and entertainment. This is a demanding field, but for a skilled software engineer, career opportunities are most promising.

Education

The first two years of the program are heavily laden with typical engineering basics such as calculus, biology, chemistry, physics, computer programming, and fundamentals of engineering. The upper division continues with selected engineering courses, focusing on software development skills, and concludes with the completion of an extensive group project. Internship and cooperative work experience are key in this major, so that one can see up-close the challenges of this rapidly evolving specialty. Several colleges currently offer a major titled “computer engineering.” Students must examine the curriculum closely to see whether it is compatible with software engineering. Strong Software Engineering programs will offer a wide array of internship possibilities, often with major corporations.

Possible careers

•    college professor
•    computer animator
•    computer hardware dev.
•    computer programmer
•    corporate IT manager
•    entrepreneur
•    software creator
•    software developer
•    software technician
•    systems analyst
•    technical writer

Adapted from Major Decisions: A Guide to College Majors, by Terry Ward. Used with permission from Wintergreen Orchard House, 2012. For the full breakdown of these majors, check out the book, available in paperback and for the Kindle!

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