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Mechanical engineers have a hand in practically every device of conveyance or convenience, from refrigerators and elevators to automobile transmissions and bicycle wheels.

The mechanical engineering discipline is fairly broad, and the specific duties required of these professionals tend to differ from position to position. However, most mechanical engineers do share a similar set of general responsibilities, such as:

  • Isolating problems and identifying potential mechanical solutions
  • Designing or revamping mechanical devices using computer-aided methods
  • Building and testing device prototypes
  • Determining from test results if design changes are needed
  • Standing by during device manufacture to ensure that everything goes as planned

A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level positions in the field. Some institutions may offer 5- or 6-year mechanical engineering programs that allow students to gain practical, hands-on field experience while earning their degree.

Coursework in Mechanical Engineering Programs

Course requirements vary by institution, but there are a number of core subjects found in most mechanical engineering programs. Students can expect to explore some or all of the following topics:

  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Dynamics of motion and mechanism
  • Thermodynamics
  • Physics of fluids
  • Numerical methods
  • Internal combustion
  • Energy and energy conversion
  • Thermal systems analysis

While a bachelor's degree is often sufficient for aspiring engineers to get started in the industry, graduates who hope to go into research or academics are likely to need at least a master's. Some schools also offer doctoral degrees in the field, which can help graduates with research ambitions accelerate their progress into project leadership.

Career Outlook for Mechanical Engineers

Job opportunities in mechanical engineering are projected to increase about five percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This should result in around 11,600 new positions in the next 10 years. The fastest career growth is expected to occur in the oil and gas extraction industry.

The BLS reports that mechanical engineers earned a median annual salary of $82,100 in 2013, with the lowest 10 percent making $52,550 or less and the top 10 percent taking home more than $123,340. Here are the median salary figures associated with mechanical engineering positions in specific industries:

  • Architectural engineering and related services: $91,320
  • Computer and electronic product manufacturing: $85,670
  • Fabricated metal product manufacturing: $70,170
  • Industrial machinery manufacturing: $77,170
  • Transportation equipment manufacturing: $81,740

Mechanical engineering majors may also transition to other careers after a few years in the workforce, depending on their specific training and experience. Materials engineers, for example, earned a median wage of $89,930 in 2013, while petroleum engineers earned $149,180.

Sources:
"Mechanical Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm
"Mechanical Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172141.htm

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