Throughout history, engineers have propelled society forward. The ability to harness electricity, improving the efficiency of agriculture and developing medicines and lifesaving equipment for the betterment of human health — the influence of engineers on society is incalculable.
Think about the grand structures of our time, the tallest buildings in the world, the largest dams, or the longest bridges. These engineering feats are visible to everyone. What about the innovations taking place at the microscopic and atomic levels? Vaccines and medicines allow us to live longer lives. Atom splitting allows us to unleash immense force. Further consider the innovations that have taken society from the Stone Age to the modern era. Think about the invention of the wheel; the development of the space program in the 1960s; or the hyperscale data centers that allow us to stay connected with others, get information, or entertain ourselves. All these achievements are the fruits of the labor of engineers working in various disciplines.
As new problems arise, engineers advance technology to help solve them. Still, as the world grows increasingly complex, 21st century engineering leaders must embrace an interdisciplinary approach to address challenges in technology, business, and society. The willingness to innovate across a complex global framework is essential to further technological advancement and build humanity’s long-term resilience in the face of familiar foes: climate change and disease.
A master’s degree and a professional engineering, or PE, license can help prepare engineers for an increasingly global society and to become leaders in their fields. A PE license is “the engineering profession’s highest standard of competence, a symbol of achievement and assurance of quality,” according to the National Society of Professional Engineers. The combination of an advanced degree and a PE license can position an engineer for increasing responsibility, including managing teams.
Engineers have become increasingly important, and organizations in industry, government, and academia seek to hire them. Science and engineering employment represents 5% of all U.S. jobs, exceeding the pace of overall workforce growth, according to “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020” from the National Science Foundation. The median annual salary for occupations in science and engineering was $85,390 in 2017, according to the report: “more than double the median for all U.S. workers ($37,690).”
Employers often seek engineers with backgrounds in one of the four main branches of engineering: chemical, electrical, civil, and mechanical. However, engineering is a vast discipline centered on solving problems with innovative solutions, which makes it an evolving, expanding field. Popular engineering disciplines include biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, and environmental engineering.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Biomedical Engineering Companies?
Biomedical engineers have developed life-enhancing and lifesaving technologies that we take for granted today. For example, cochlear implants mitigate hearing loss through sound amplification. Other examples include electrocardiographs, kidney dialysis, stethoscopes, X-rays, and hip replacements.
Biomedical Engineering Responsibilities
Biomedical engineers design and develop technology and instruments to treat diseases and help restore patient health. Part of their responsibility is to evaluate and repair health care equipment and devices. Biomedical technology includes:
- Machines for diagnosing and treating medical problems
- Artificial organs and limbs
- Implantable devices, such as an internal cardiac pacemaker
- Robotic surgical systems
- Imaging equipment, such as ultrasounds, X-rays, and MRIs
Biomedical Engineering Competencies
Critical competencies for biomedical engineers include understanding various engineering concepts, as well as analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills. Specialty areas in biomedical engineering include:
- Clinical engineering
These focused biomedical fields may require studying other engineering subjects, such as computer science and thermodynamics. For example, biomedical engineers interested in developing artificial hearts must understand cardiology and physiology and have knowledge of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and fluid dynamics.
Where Do Biomedical Engineers Work?
Biomedical engineers work with doctors, therapists, and researchers in engineering companies; manufacturing facilities; health care settings, such as hospitals; and university and research institutions.
Top companies include Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare, and Medtronic. From medical devices and diagnostic imaging devices to pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods, these companies provide wide-ranging career options for graduates who want to help save lives.
Education and Salary
Biomedical engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering or bioengineering. However, a graduate degree may position candidates for higher-level roles. Biomedical engineers earned a median annual wage of $88,550 as of 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Civil Engineering Companies?
Civil engineers helped build some of the most impressive structures in history, from the Panama Canal and Brooklyn Bridge to the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. These grand structures represent only a fraction of the work civil engineers do.
Civil Engineering Responsibilities
Civil engineers design, build, and supervise infrastructure projects, including:
- Water supply facilities
- Sewage treatment plants
Civil engineers develop technologies, as well. For example, self-healing concrete helps protect a building’s steel reinforcement from water and oxygen corrosion. Other recent innovations include thermal bridging, which is an efficient insulation process, and photovoltaic glaze, which enables buildings to generate electricity.
Civil engineers who want to address climate change and resilience can make an impact. They can design systems that reduce soil erosion, improve energy efficiency, reduce traffic congestion, and improve infrastructure for disaster management.
Civil Engineering Competencies
Critical competencies for civil engineers include strong math and statistics skills and knowledge of engineering mechanics and fluid dynamics. There are different specialty areas in civil engineering. These include construction engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, and transportation engineering. In addition to engineering knowledge, civil engineers possess decision-making, organizational, and problem-solving skills. Therefore, effective communication and speaking skills are essential.
Where Do Civil Engineers Work?
Civil engineers demonstrate leadership at construction sites, including coordinating site activities and promoting safe construction processes. They often work for state and city governments, which may require presenting their findings on public works concerning bids and the environmental impact of projects.
Top companies include AECOM, Jacobs Engineering Group, and Peter Kiewit Sons’. Ranked in the Fortune 500, these industrial engineering and construction firms are among the most innovative in the industry.
Education and Salary
Civil engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a specialty area, such as construction engineering. Civil engineers earned a median annual wage of $86,640 as of 2018, according to the BLS.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Mechanical Engineering Companies?
Mechanical engineers have played a central role throughout history in making human life more comfortable. From the invention of the wheel and the earliest sea vessels to the sophisticated machinery and vehicles of the modern era, the mechanical engineering discipline has been a crucial driver of change and innovation.
Mechanical Engineering Responsibilities
Mechanical engineers are responsible for designing, developing, testing, and improving systems and devices with moving parts. They create mechanical systems for various industries:
- Medical devices used in health care settings
- Electric charging stations for zero-emission vehicles
- Elevators and escalators in buildings
- Material handling systems in manufacturing facilities
Before building the systems, sensors, tools, and engines, mechanical engineers create prototypes and test their designs. At the end of the design and testing processes, they often oversee the manufacturing process. Mechanical engineers also investigate failures and diagnose mechanical issues in various equipment.
Mechanical Engineering Competencies
Critical competencies for mechanical engineers include math, mechanical, listening, and problem-solving skills. There are different specialty areas in mechanical engineering, including:
- Auto research
- Heating and cooling systems
Mechanical engineers are detail oriented and creative and use computer-aided design, or CAD, and analysis tools to develop equipment and machinery. They often work on projects with other engineers, architects, and computer scientists, among others. For example, they may collaborate with electrical engineers on designing power-producing machines, such as generators and turbines.
Where Do Mechanical Engineers Work?
Mechanical engineers work in various settings, from corporate environments to power generation and petroleum production facilities.
Top companies include Halliburton, Cameron International Corporation, Cummins, and Ford. From automobiles to energy production, these companies offer graduates ample opportunities to work on various types of mechanical systems.
Education and Salary
Mechanical engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineers may enroll in graduate programs to broaden their education, learn new technologies, or prepare for leadership roles. Mechanical engineers earned a median annual wage of $87,370 as of 2018, according to the BLS.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Electrical Engineering Companies?
Electrical engineers have helped bring about the modern age by inventing and building the infrastructure that delivers electricity to homes and businesses. Renowned electrical engineers throughout history include Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, Guglielmo Marconi, and Philo T. Farnsworth. Thanks to their vision, the electric lightbulb, alternating current, induction motor, radio, and television are part of everyday life.
Electrical Engineering Responsibilities
Electrical engineers are involved in designing testing, and improving electrical equipment, devices, and systems. Electrical systems developed by electrical engineers include:
- Communications systems
- Radar and navigation systems
- Power generation equipment
- Electronic components in computers and cars
As experts in specifications and electrical safety codes, such as the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70), which has been adopted in all 50 states, electrical engineers help protect lives from electrical dangers.
Electrical Engineering Competencies
Critical competencies for electrical engineers include:
- Knowledge of electrical and electronics theory and materials
- Ability to work safely with electricity
- Skills in physics, mathematics, problem-solving, and concentration
Courses in drafting may be useful to prepare drafts of blueprints for homes and commercial facilities. However, electrical engineers are increasingly relying on CAD systems to create circuit designs and simulation tools to model electrical infrastructure, like a power grid or a computer microprocessor. They often collaborate with project managers and others to ensure timely, on-budget, and satisfactory completion of projects.
Where Do Electrical Engineers Work?
Electrical engineers work in various industries, from utilities and technology companies to the federal government, where they may work on electrical systems in satellite, flight, and sonar systems.
Top companies include Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments, and Intel. These companies represent a wide range of opportunities across multiple industries for electrical engineers.
Education and Salary
Electrical engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or electronics engineering. Electrical engineers earned a median annual wage of $96,640 as of 2018, according to the BLS.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Aerospace Engineering Companies?
Aerospace engineers in the 19th century helped lay the groundwork for today’s fast-moving, global society. Since Orville and Wilbur Wright, credited for creating the first powerful engine to achieve sustained flight of an aircraft, aerospace engineers have been central to getting pilots and astronauts to reach new heights.
Aerospace Engineering Responsibilities
Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing, prototyping, and testing all types of aircraft systems. Large-scale projects include:
- Commercial airplanes
- Military airships
Specialty areas include aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering:
- Aeronautical engineers design and study aerodynamics of aircraft, propulsion systems, and construction materials.
- Astronautical engineers work on spacecraft designed to perform in outer space, as well as inside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Aeronautical Engineering Competencies
Critical competencies for aerospace engineers include physics, math, and critical thinking skills. Business and communication skills are essential in both commercial and government organizations to explain issues of cost, performance, and safety to decision-makers without aerospace engineering backgrounds.
Aerospace engineers use their problem-solving skills to create innovative designs that maximize fuel efficiency without compromising performance. They often are the go-to experts in areas such as:
- Structural design
- Navigation instrumentation
Throughout the engineering process, aerospace engineers leverage their knowledge of physics, mathematical models, and engineering principles to ensure that systems function as they should before use.
Where Do Aeronautical Engineers Work?
Aerospace engineers work in various commercial and military facilities.
Top companies include Boeing, Airbus, and United Technologies. These companies specialize in aircraft manufacturing, where graduates can apply their skills in designing aircraft, spacecraft, and rockets, but also work in project engineering or systems engineering roles.
Education and Salary
Aerospace engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. A graduate degree can prepare them for instructor roles in universities or work in research and development. Aerospace engineers earned a median annual wage of $115,220 as of May 2018, according to the BLS.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Chemical Engineering Companies?
Chemical engineers discover solutions in laboratories and lay the foundation for their innovations to be reproduced on a mass scale. Significant contributions to society by chemical engineers include making it possible to have safe drinking water, fuel for cars and power generation, antibiotics, vaccines, and medications for health, and plastics for products.
Chemical Engineering Responsibilities
Chemical engineers are responsible for taking raw materials and transforming them into products such as foods, medicines, cleaning products, and oil. They understand industrial and manufacturing processes and often work closely with plant and machine operators to ensure proper development of products.Typical activities for chemical engineers may include:
- Establishing safety use procedures for dangerous chemicals
- Implementing methods for separating compounds
- Designing equipment for use in chemical processes
- Conducting tests in laboratories
Chemical Engineering Competencies
Critical competencies for chemical engineers include the following skills:
- Critical thinking
Chemical engineers use these skills when conducting research in laboratories and improving manufacturing processes. Process engineers are a type of chemical engineer with specialized skills to focus on chemical process areas, such as oxidation or polymerization.
Where Do Chemical Engineers Work?
Chemical engineers often work in industrial plants, refineries, water treatment sites, and chemical companies that produce pharmaceuticals, construction materials, and polymers for computer technology.
Top companies include BASF, BP, and Exxon Mobil Corp.. These companies represent different industries, which speaks to the variety of roles available for chemical engineers to innovate and find solutions.
Education and Salary
Chemical engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. For research and development roles and instructor positions beyond high schools, a graduate degree is recommended. Chemical engineers earned a median annual wage of $104,910 as of 2018, according to the BLS.
What Role Do Engineers Play at Environmental Engineering Companies?
Environmental engineers focus on protecting people from the harmful effects of pollutants and contaminants in the air, water, and soil. This branch of engineering can trace its roots back to Joseph Bazalgette, who, in mid-19th century London, built the first large-scale sanitary sewer system. Cholera epidemics and a persistent stench across the city prompted the first-of-its-kind environmental engineering project.
Environmental Engineering Responsibilities
Environmental engineers are critical to public health and play a central role in the fight against climate change. They’re responsible for addressing the challenges of:
- Providing clean water
- Disposing of solid waste and sewage
- Mitigating the harmful chemical and biological contaminants produced by industry
Environmental engineers detect the source of pollutants and develop solutions to minimize the negative impacts. Environmental engineers who want to help improve the ecological sustainability of construction projects work closely with other engineers across disciplines, as well as urban planners and construction managers.
Environmental Engineering Competencies
Critical skills needed by environmental engineers include knowledge of engineering principles, as well as the following competencies:
- Interpersonal and communication
They use biology and chemistry science and critical thinking and data analysis skills to perform quality control checks and develop reports. They understand the environmental law to lead environmental remediation projects and help organizations comply with regulations.
Where Do Environmental Engineers Work?
From large-scale farming industries to manufacturing facilities, environmental engineers work at various sites to help organizations improve the quality of air, water, and soil, according to government standards.
Top companies and organizations include AECOM, HDR, Bechtel, and the Army Corps of Engineers. These companies provide opportunities for graduates to help develop innovative new technologies, from renewable energy sources to soil science advancements, that can have a positive impact on the environment.
Education and Salary
Environmental engineers earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or hold civil, chemical, or general engineering degrees. Environmental engineers earned a median annual wage of $87,620 as of May 2018, according to the BLS.