What Does it Mean to Study Systems Engineering?
Systems engineering grew out of a need for specialized engineering disciplines to be able to work together. They focus on making different components, produced by specialty engineers, work as a cohesive and efficient system. Systems engineers also repair and improve upon existing systems as new technologies emerge.
A college degree in systems engineering provides the necessary skills needed to interact with professionals engaged in a broad field of disciplines. Systems engineers must think holistically, taking into account every aspect of a project, including the costs, environmental concerns, timeframes, and life expectancy of equipment.
The demand for systems engineers is on the rise, as all kinds of systems become increasingly complex and companies' needs cannot be met by engineers concentrating in a specific discipline, such as electronics, manufacturing, or computers. The increasingly global economy also has stimulated the need for systems engineers, as foreign and domestic platforms are often incompatible.
Bringing together engineers, businessmen, and employees from all parts of the globe and all walks of life is central to a career in systems engineering. Communication and mediation skills are a necessity in the field, as is the need to think of the big picture, instead of getting caught up in the details.
Professionals in the systems engineering field must be able to trust that the engineers involved in a project are doing their jobs correctly. They should be able to manage the creation of a system without getting deeply involved at every level, as the schedules of most projects do not allow for systems engineers to know every last detail of what is happening all of the time.
Systems engineers must also always be looking toward the future. This means that, when developing a system, they must be thinking of ways to improve upon the system in the future with minimal cost and time spent. Since technology is constantly growing and changing, developing systems that are easily adaptable to new technologies can decide the fate of a company. Thus, the responsibility of the systems engineer is very great indeed.
The most important aspects of systems engineering include:
- Design compatibility
- Definition of requirements
- Management of projects
- Cost analysis
- Possible maintenance needs
- Ease of operations
- Future systems upgrades
- Communication among engineers, managers, suppliers, and customers in regards to the system's operations
A systems engineering major not only prepares the student for a career in systems engineering, but provides engineers with a deeper understanding of how systems work should they decide to specialize in a particular system later on down the road. This makes communicating with other systems engineers, project managers, customers and suppliers much easier. The study of systems engineering is all about the coordination of a team, and companies are more likely to hire someone with experience in team coordination. Online degrees in systems engineering, usually found at the master's level, allow working engineers to further advance their theoretical understanding without disrupting their career trajectory.
The systems engineering major covers a broad range of disciplines, providing insight into everything that goes into the production of a process or product, including:
- Advanced math, including calculus and differential equations
- Computer science
- Design engineering
- Civil engineering
- Business ethics and management
- Writing and communications
Career Education in Systems Engineering
If you have a strong interest in math, physics, and computers, a degree in engineering will probably interest you. But is systems engineering the way to go? The good news is that beginning with an emphasis on systems engineering can prepare you for a career in almost any specialized engineering discipline you can think of. Beginning with a systems engineering background allows the student to specialize later on if they so desire.
To be a successful systems engineer, you should be a natural problem solver and excellent communicator. You need to be able to consider multiple factors and figure out ways for all of these factors to come together and form a whole process. This is called having a "systems view" and comes in handy no matter what field you decide to go into.
Systems engineers must wear many hats, serving in turn as the leader, the listener, the negotiator, and the diplomat. Careers in this field require a great deal of patience and resourcefulness, as well as good old-fashioned common sense. A desire for success without compromising ethics and ideals, as well as a keen understanding of teamwork, are necessary for a career in systems engineering.
Not to overlook the technical side of things, systems engineers must be mechanically and technically competent. Their math and science skills must be top-notch. They must manage their time in the most effective way possible, making sure that every aspect of a project is given careful consideration.
Lastly, systems engineers must possess the desire and ability to continue learning throughout their careers. As technology changes, you must keep up. Survival and advancement in the engineering world requires adapting to change, learning from mistakes, and embracing new and different ideas.
When preparing to enter the field of systems engineering, it is important to take as many advanced math and science courses as possible. Most engineers start out with a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering, offered by many traditional and accredited online colleges and universities. Knowledge of programming languages may also come in handy, though it is by no means a prerequisite. Experience in the field, whether it is working on a production line or being a quality control inspector, is always useful, though not an option for everyone.
Most engineering students don't stop their schooling after obtaining a BS. Continuing on to a master's degree in systems engineering is very common, and some students opt to earn a PhD in order to teach at the college level. Online graduate degrees have become increasingly popular among professional engineers, many of whom choose to stay employed while they study, and apply their newfound knowledge to real-life work problems.
Systems Engineering Degree Programs
College degree programs in systems engineering are diverse, giving you the chance to interact with a variety of disciplines. You can choose to specialize after the first couple years of study, but this is usually not required. Also, if you find an engineering discipline that suits you better than systems engineering, it is relatively easy to transfer credits over to a different program or to switch majors.
Systems engineering degree programs include the Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering, the Master of Science in Systems Engineering, and the Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering, as well as specific certificate programs covering a broad range of topics. Each of these degrees can lead to rewarding careers as entry-level engineers, project managers, or teachers. The flexibility of the systems engineering degree means that careers are available to graduates in almost every industry.
Many professionals already within the field of systems engineering don't have the time or the need for a full degree program. For this reason, many certificate programs are available for people wishing to concentrate on a single area of systems engineering. Many of these certificate programs are available online.
Online education is very convenient for those who cannot afford to take time off of work or are not yet fully committed to pursuing systems engineering as a definite career choice. These certificate programs give many people the opportunity to learn a new skill from the comfort of their own homes and without having to quit their jobs or pay for an expensive degree program.
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
The first two years of most BS degree programs in systems engineering provide a basic overview of the field of engineering in general, with specializations available in the third or fourth years. This overview includes the study of technology and science, design engineering, and business.
The technology and science sections usually cover core mathematics and computer science topics, as well as physics and chemistry in the context of engineering. The design portion usually covers basic building techniques, and designing with different qualities in mind, such as function versus durability. Studying business provides valuable insight into the larger context in which engineering exists, and teaches students how to thrive as engineers in the business world.
During their first two years, systems engineering students are often able to take one or two elective courses in something that interests them specifically, from history to philosophy to auto mechanics. The third and fourth years of study are often supplemented by a research project, a work-study project, or a term abroad, depending on the program. You'll have the opportunity to begin gaining hands-on experience in the field before graduating, thereby making the post-graduate job hunt much easier. These projects can range from working as an engineering assistant or research assistant to traveling abroad and working on simulated systems using a foreign platform.
Furthermore, you should be able to customize their program to a higher degree by selecting appropriate electives or picking up a minor in another discipline of engineering, such as business engineering or automotive engineering. You can now begin to gear your degree toward the industry you want to work in.
Online BS degrees are a natural choice for non-traditional students, students who wish to work full-time, and students who can't leave home for one reason or another. These e-learning degrees are available from fully accredited online universities across the country.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Systems Engineering?
As production systems become more complicated and more businesses change their methods to accommodate the global marketplace, the need for systems engineers has grown tremendously. Since systems engineering is a multidisciplinary field, jobs exist in nearly every industry. This gives you the chance to explore many types of businesses in order to discover which company is the best suited to your interests and special talents.
As production moves overseas and the parts involved in assembling products come from all over the globe, the opportunity for travel is great in the field of systems engineering. While travel can often be exhausting, it also helps the engineer broaden their horizons and achieve a better understanding of how to integrate things into a cohesive system.
Some examples of the roles systems engineers might play in a variety of industries include:
Petroleum Systems Engineer
Petroleum systems engineers seek out oil and gas deposits, then figure out how to extract, store, and transport the materials in as safe a manner as possible. Petroleum systems engineers are engaged in every activity an oil company is engaged in, overseeing the drilling, processing, and equipment maintenance. These specialists are constantly on the lookout for ways of making the process more efficient, cleaner, or safer.
Industrial Systems Engineer
With a focus on solving problems in industrial systems, industrial systems engineers find ways of streamlining a process, making it more cost-effective. They also focus on making the production floor a safer place to work. They must understand the mechanics, physics, and chemistry behind all kinds of machines, while designing solutions for problems. In addition, these specialists must communicate their recommendations to everyone from the Board of Directors to the other engineers on the project.
Environmental Systems Engineer
As developed nations finally begin to address their impacts on the environment, the demand grows for environmental systems engineers, who have a strong feeling of social responsibility and an understanding and concern for nature. Industries such as waste disposal, wastewater treatment, water purification, and emissions utilize environmental systems engineers. These jobs are often in the public utilities sector. These specialists are very well respected because of the social agendas they promote.
Software Systems Engineer
Getting computers on different platforms to work together and communicate can be a frustrating task. This is where software systems engineers come in. They create software that will not only work on as many operating systems as necessary, but will also communicate effectively with other operating systems in the industry. Often, these specialists must bridge the communication gaps between suppliers and customers. These engineers also create software for specific industries in order to regulate or control certain processes, such as an assembly line or quality control facility.
Electronic Systems Engineer
Electronic systems engineers work in all sorts of electronics industries, including telecommunications, microelectronics, and robotics. They are involved in everything, including the design, implementation, operation and maintenance of new systems. These systems range from the automated production of an item to the regulation of company's information network.
Systems Engineering Certification and Licensure
The law does not specifically require systems engineers to be licensed, but it does make looking for a job much easier. If you are working for the federal government, then you need to be a licensed engineer, and most states have regulations concerning what sorts of jobs only licensed engineers can take. Therefore, it is best to get licensed in your state, if possible. Licensure regulations also vary from state to state, and students can learn their state's exact requirements through their school's career counseling program.
In general, licensure usually consists of passing a state exam, but most states require applicants to have a few years of work experience before sitting for the exam. If you're fresh out of college, you can register for pre-licensure certification. Once you have gained the required work experience, you can apply for actual licensure.
There are also a number of trade and professional associations for engineers that can help those in the field to network and to share ideas. These organizations offer seminars, luncheons, and job fairs, so engineers can explore their options and keep current on what is happening in their profession.