An engineering degree is an investment that can take your career in many directions. While some educational backgrounds prepare students for a single profession, a degree in this specialization can lead to careers that are as diverse as the many students who choose to enroll in these programs. An intellectually challenging field that has seen great growth over the last several decades, engineering offers a multitude of opportunities in areas as far ranging as music, sports, conservation and construction. In fact, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, as of 2012 there were more than 1.5 million engineers employed across the nation.
When you earn a bachelor’s or master’s of engineering degree, you may go into the program with the expectation that you will end up working in a traditional role, such as that of civil, mechanical or chemical engineer. However, there are many unexpected twists that your career can take when you have a background in engineering. If you are looking for something outside the norm, consider one of these seven unusual careers for engineers:
1. Skate park engineer
Engineers help to construct bridges, buildings and other structures in cities across the country. But if you are looking for something beyond the ordinary, what about skate parks? These areas where skate boarders, cyclists and roller bladers can safely practice their sport need to be designed with care. Improper angles or incorrect spacing can turn these parks from fun to hazardous in an instant. To avoid injuries, it is important for engineers to be involved in the planning and construction. An example of an engineer who embraced this application of his skills is Andrew Willis. After winning the lease of an empty lot in London, Willis combined his passion for skateboarding with his knowledge of engineering to create a skate park made entirely from reclaimed materials.
“Some materials I’d never worked with before, so I had to learn a lot of it from scratch,” Willis said. “[But] standing in the park now, watching it well used, it’s a massive buzz … the skate park’s only temporary, but I just hope some of the things the kids have learned and some of the memories they’ve got are a bit more permanent.”
Engineers are also needed to design playgrounds, snow sport half pipes, theme parks and other recreational areas. Consider indulging your inner child while making use of your engineering degree in one of these interesting positions.
2. Sports engineer
Counting down the minutes until you can get home and watch the big game? Whatever your sport of choice, you can be involved in your passion for athletics while working as an engineer. Sports engineers help to research and develop the equipment and environment of the sports industry, from shoes to stadiums. While sports scientists typically work to measure and enhance the performance of the athletes themselves, sports engineers are more concerned with the development of products used by the athletes. A sports scientist may look at an athlete’s swing, for example, but a sports engineer may focus on the bat.
In an article for the International Sports Engineering Association, Dr. David James, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University, reported that many employers look for a solid engineering background first when hiring for these positions, as opposed to simply choosing a candidate with sports knowledge and a passion for the field. Consequently, your degree choice is important. According to James, professionals in this field often have training in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, mathematics, physics or material science. However, he also reported that a passion for sports is a critical element of becoming successful in the field. Because the role of sports engineer is a competitive job, a Master of Science in Engineering degree could set you apart from others when you apply.
3. Food engineer
There is more to making a sandwich then just slapping some peanut butter and jelly on bread. Before the ingredients of any meal get to your kitchen, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in food creation and sales, much of which is done by food engineers. When you work with food as an engineer, you may end up on the chemical side of the process, working with important elements such as the preservation of goods, or you may be in production, which can entail tasks such as ensuring safe packaging of food or managing the equipment in factories.
According to the Houston Chronicle, common backgrounds for professionals in this position include industrial engineering, chemical engineering and food science, either at the bachelor’s or master’s level. Precise educational requirements will vary based on what facet of food engineering you wish to pursue.
4. Preservation engineer
If you spend your weekends reading about historical structures or watching home renovation shows, a career as a preservation engineer may be for you. When historical buildings need to be preserved, there is a lot that goes on to ensure that the integrity and design of the original structure is retained. This focus is a specialty of the field of structural engineering. When working as a preservation engineer, you may find yourself responsible for tasks such as evaluating historical buildings, consulting on renovations and ensuring the cost-effectiveness of projects. You will likely work within a larger team in these efforts, and may collaborate with others in related fields, such as architects and historians. Consequently, interpersonal skills are key.
The role of engineers in preservation has not always been clearly defined, but it is a subspecialty that is growing in importance. In 2003, the APT Preservation Engineering Technical Committee was formed to promote the role of engineers in this field, encourage continuing education efforts for those in the industry and establish a process for the work.
As a preservation engineer, in addition to the professional fulfillment that comes from using your skills in an intellectually stimulating role, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are playing a role in maintaining the history of your community. It is an important job that ensures that the past is not completely sacrificed in the name of progress.
5. Pyrotechnic engineer
Clearly, firework displays do not get up into the air all by themselves. There is a great amount of work on the back end that occurs before the fuse is lit, and engineers are well-placed to play an important role in the design of these blazing signs of celebration. If you have expertise in engineering and an interest in the science of fire, you may want to consider a career as a pyrotechnic engineer. Firework design is a rapidly advancing field which has come a long way from the gunpowder and bamboo creations of the past. In this role, you can experiment with materials and combinations to create products and displays that will enhance the performances of musicians, celebrate important sporting events and more.
If you are interested in entering the field, a background in chemical engineering will serve you well. But even with a master’s of engineering degree, you will still typically need to pass a safety certification course. Many companies offer their own program, but you will need to look into specific requirements when you apply for jobs.
According to the job and salary website Indeed, the average salary of a pyrotechnic engineer is $76,000.
6. Fashion engineer
While you likely will not find the specific term “fashion engineer” on a job posting, there are a number of careers that allow engineers interested in apparel to pursue a career that combines these two passions. For example, the background in math and science that an engineering degree offers can be particularly helpful in developing running shoes or creating lightweight, breathable materials. Engineers can even pursue careers in makeup and other beauty products.
However, if you are interested in working in retail, the design of items and materials is not your only option. There is also demand in the manufacturing and sale of retail items as well. Engineers are sometimes used for responsibilities such as creating the machines that produce the clothing and determining the amount of merchandise to send to a particular store. It may take some creativity, but it is entirely possible to use your engineering skills in the fashion realm.
7. Technical writer
When you complete an engineering degree, you do not need to feel pigeonholed into a position that carries the specific title of engineer. If you enjoy putting pen to paper, you may find that you enjoy writing about engineering more than actually working in a more traditional role in the industry. Working as a science writer, you will be able to act as a liaison between engineers and the general public, translating technical jargon into stories, press releases or even instructional aids. While engineering companies often need communications professionals with expertise in the field to write their own publications, you do not have to work with this kind of specialized firm. Magazines, newspapers and other more general publications also need science writers, and they will likely see a degree in engineering as a major asset.
While the job and salary website Glassdoor reported that the average salary of a science writer is $64,481, professionals with a higher science degree – such as a master’s of engineering – are often well-placed to pursue a position that makes well above the average.