Life would be nothing like it is today without all the plastics, ceramics, composites, resins, polymers, alloys and other high-tech materials that are used to build most of the products we buy off the shelves. Material engineering programs are a path towards taking part in creating the next new substance that changes the world forever.
Material engineers work on a variety of projects with a variety of different substances, but these general responsibilities tend to be fairly consistent from job to job:
- Analyzing the performance and deterioration of materials under various conditions
- Evaluating material design objectives against economic and technical standards
- Consulting with other engineers to plan and propose new projects
- Designing, developing and testing systems for manufacture or processing
- Supervising technicians, technologists and other engineering personnel
Potential employers of material engineers tend to value applicants with strong formal educations in engineering, particularly those who have graduated from a dedicated material engineering degree program.
Some institutions may offer cooperative programs in engineering, which combine classroom-based academic work with structured job experience to better prepare students for real-world working environments.
Coursework in Material Engineering Programs
Each college or university with a material engineering program structures its curriculum in its own way, but the basic concepts of the discipline tend to be common among most degree paths. Here's a short list of subjects students are likely to study on their journey towards a material engineering degree:
- Material structure and properties
- Metals and alloys
- Fundamental electricity and magnetism
- Numerical methods
- Advanced mathematics
Material engineering degrees may be available at the bachelor's, master's or doctoral level, depending on the institution. Graduate degrees are typically required for students who wish to work as a researcher or university instructor. Some schools offer a comprehensive 5-year program that confers both a bachelor's and master's program upon completion.
Career Outlook for Material Engineering Majors
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for material engineers are expected to grow 1 percent between 2012 and 2022. Growing fields such as biomedical engineering and commercial product research and development are most likely to see the emergence of new material engineering jobs. Aerospace manufacturing and other high-tech industries may see positions open up as well.
The BLS also reports that material engineers earned a median annual salary of $87,330 in 2013, with the lowest 10 percent of earners making $54,540 and the top 10 percent taking home $134,510 annually. Graduates of material engineering degree programs who worked for the federal government earned $111,050, and aerospace parts manufacturing companies paid their material engineers an average of $102,280 in the same year.
Material engineering degrees can also prepare you for a number of similar careers, each with somewhat different 2013 median salary info reported by the BLS:
- Biomedical engineers: $88,670
- Chemical engineers: $95,730
- Materials scientists: $88,660
- Sales engineers: $93,900
Job opportunities in some of these related careers are expected to skyrocket in the next several years, as well. Biomedical engineers, for example, should see a 27 percent increase in employment between 2012 and 2022.
"B.S. Program Curriculum," University of Arizona, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, http://www.mse.arizona.edu/bs-program-curriculum
"Materials Engineering - Online Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering," Colorado State University, Division of Continuing Education, http://www.online.colostate.edu/degrees/mechanical-engineering/materials-engineering.dot
"Materials Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/materials-engineers.htm
"Biomedical Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm
"Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: 17-2131 Material Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 6, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172131.htm