Originally Posted: Jul 18, 2017
Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017
What is the perfect major? That question makes no sense, of course. Everyone chooses their major for a different reason. However, it all boils down to one question: will the major help you achieve what you want?
My next question is: what kind of people want what Materials Science has to offer? Hold your horses, reader. Let's first examine what Materials Science majors study.
Materials Science is a broad field that covers everything but “Material Girl” by Madonna. Materials Science is the study of stuff. And since many things are made out of stuff, the major has a lot to cover. The major first branches off with specializations like ceramics, polymers, and metals. However, everything will be covered, no matter the specialization.
*Chemistry alert* What are ceramics and polymers and metals? Well, ceramics are materials bonded ironically, and polymers are materials bonded conveniently. Actually, the terms are "ionically" and "covalently," but since this is not a science article, these other terms will suffice. Atoms that make polymers are all friends, so they make “convenient” bonds by sharing electrons. Atoms that make ceramics are complete opposites, so it is “ironic” they bond at all, but they do by giving or taking away electrons to satisfy each other. Metals just play some sort of electron catch to bond with their children. All of these strange relationships seem trivial, but they give the materials certain traits in the macro-scale.
If this interests you, that is a good sign. That is just the tip of the iceberg in an incredibly awesome field. So, what kind of classes do Materials Science majors take? If you have a decent short-term memory, you remember doing some chemistry in this article. Along with chemistry, this major requires quite a few physics classes. And where there are physical sciences, there is math. If this isn't for you, that's all right. No hard feelings. But if you are a science geek, hold up on the traditional STEM majors. Materials Science is the best STEM major, and now I finally get to tell you why.
First, you get to use physics, chemistry, and engineering on a day-to-day basis. Some materials scientists even specialize in biological materials, so they get to do life science too. Materials scientists are well rounded and interdisciplinary, even where traditional science majors fail.
Second, you can get a job. Since most things are made out of stuff, materials science is directly applicable to just about everything, so you can work wherever you want. Industry, academia, and national labs all use stuff. Want to work at an engineering firm? They use stuff. What about NASA? They launch stuff. The military, maybe? They shoot stuff (and thank you, soldiers and veterans, for your service). There is plenty enough stuff to go around.
To add to that, most materials science degrees have a different name: Materials Science and Engineering. That actually makes a big difference. That means materials scientists can get a job with just a bachelor's degree and work as an engineer. This dual personality of science and engineering gives the best of both worlds. However, if you want to do research, a PhD is extremely beneficial (not to mention the title "Doctor").
Also, you get some variety in the workplace. I interviewed an undisclosed materials scientist (ooh, mysterious) and he worked in research, material selection, engineering, and failure analysis, all in the same job. You don't have to do all this, but the choice sure is nice.
Lastly, materials scientists work in big roles for big projects. Sorry, aspiring aerospace engineers, but you probably won't design rockets in your first couple years. You will design *part* of a rocket. And by part I mean a small part. You will still be important, if not integral to making your hunk of materials fly (otherwise nobody would be paying you), but you won't be able to make many influential decisions or zoom out until you work up the ladder. However, that is not the case for materials science. You will be asked what materials your team should use to make the rocket. This is still only part of the job, but it is at a larger scale.
Still think Materials Science is boring? Cool—don't take the major. However, if you want to apply many different scientific fields, have a job, and do cool stuff, Materials Science may be the major for you.