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What Can I Do With a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

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Mechanical engineering graduates can position themselves for extremely rewarding careers in a wide array of engineering and engineering-related vocations in a host of industries. For example, a graduate may choose to work with a government agency that designs nanotechnology products; as a designer utilizing CAD/CADD software to draft and design new technologies for private business; or even as a robotics designer for a non-profit organization.

Ultimately, opportunities abound for those who hold a degree in mechanical engineering, and many positions come with lucrative salaries and the possibility of expansion or promotion. To shed further light on this, we have provided an in-depth look into a few careers commonly pursued by mechanical engineers who are entering the workforce upon completing their bachelor’s degrees. And we end with a look at what engineers looking to advance within the field can do with a master’s degree.

Robotics Engineer

As the use of robots and robotics continues to rise, so too will the demand for robotics engineers and the special skillset they retain. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, who took specialized robotics courses during school, can qualify to become robotics engineers. These engineers are responsible for designing and creating robots and robotics to be used for specific purposes in a variety of different industries. A robotics engineer may work on a team that develops a new robot to be used in highly precise surgeries, or a consumer robot that is meant solely to provide entertainment. Furthermore, a robotics engineer may also find employment on a research team working on new inventions to broaden the field of robotics itself

Some colleges or universities actually offer a specialized degree in robotics engineering, sometimes referred to as robotics and mechatronics. More commonly, a mechanical engineer who has taken courses in related topics, such as laboratory and design, robotics, microprocessing, and circuit boards, will transition into this career. Mechanical engineers without any robotics schooling may need to pursue additional education before working in this industry, such as a graduate degree like the online master’s in robotics engineering offered by Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Automotive Engineer

Those with a true passion for cars and other automobiles may gravitate toward careers in automotive engineering. Indeed, automotive engineers are responsible for the design, development, testing, and ultimately building all types of automobiles, from cars, to trucks, to motorcycles. An automotive engineer must have a thorough knowledge and understanding of electronics, engines, and aerodynamics, as each of these must be factored into the equation when designing a reliable, high-performing automobile.

Often automotive engineering is considered a specialized subfield of mechanical engineering, with some schools offering a specific concentration in this area of study as part of a mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree program. Mechanical engineers who did not have this option, however, may continue on to pursue an online master’s degree in automotive engineering, like the one offered by University of Michigan, in order to learn more about specialized components and automotive-specific considerations.

In general, an automotive engineer may spend time working only on a portion of a specific car, with others being delegated to separate teams. For example, an automotive engineer may work on a team focused solely on the engine system, or in a group who is responsible for the maintenance and development of the emissions and the fuel technology.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Engineer

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers are tasked with designing and implementing heating and air conditioning systems for all types of structures and environments. For example, an HVAC engineer may design a system to be used in a local school, a residential apartment complex, or a police station, which he or she may help implement later in the process. It is important to note, however, that maintenance on the system will likely be performed by a technician.

Although many HVAC engineers work in an office setting designing systems, others may find themselves traveling to various locations to perform observations or assist with maintenance, particularly in the case of more complex systems. HVAC engineers may find employment with engineering or consulting firms, or even with government organizations or other local institutions.

Piping Engineer

Piping engineers generally design and implement piping systems meant to transport various fluids (liquids and gases) from place to place. The transported fluids may include oil and gas, water, or even sewage. As such, a piping engineer is likely to find employment within the oil and gas industry, assisting in the development of pipes to transport natural resources; or with the local government by helping to facilitate the transport of clean water or waste.

Piping engineering is often seen as a subfield within mechanical engineering; indeed, piping engineering involves the transport of fluids in pipes through the application of traditional mechanical engineering processes. That being said, a mechanical engineer will likely need to cover fluid and piping courses during undergraduate or graduate school in order to be proficient in this career. Engineers may become certified in this field through the Society of Piping Engineers and Designers.

Project Coordinator

Most engineering projects require a team. To be sure, some engineers will help develop the project from its infancy, and will often hand it over to others who will build on this and create a more comprehensive model. Then, in many cases, another professional will be responsible for taking that design and using it to create a finished product.

And, very often an engineering project will be managed by a project coordinator or manager, an individual who has the experience and skillset necessary to understand each aspect of the process and ensure everything is completed according to the guidelines and the set schedule. A project coordinator is likely an engineer with an in-depth knowledge of the work and the industry; as such, this type of position is often only available to those with graduate degrees in engineering (frequently, engineering management specifically) on top of a bachelor’s. Or, this type of employment may be available to an individual who has earned both an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a Professional Engineer license through the National Society of Professional Engineers.

Engineering Salesperson

Not all of those with an engineering degree will end up utilizing software to develop new products, engineering said products, or overseeing an entire team of engineering professionals. Instead, many of those with a degree in mechanical engineering may go on to work on the sales side of the business, marketing products within the specific industry to any number of clients. The sales engineer may work within the engineering firm’s office, or may travel to various locations in order to show off their wares. This engineer’s specific responsibilities may vary, but he or she can expect to meet with potential clients and discuss the product, research ideas for new products or developments, collaborate with the rest of the sales team and place orders, assist clients with requests or questions, and conduct perform any other number of actions related to the sales operation.

Of course, a sales engineer must still have a comprehensive knowledge of the field of engineering, as well as the products offered by his or her firm. Here, the sales engineer must be able to answer any and all technical questions posed by current and potential clients; and, as such, must always remain up-to-date on developments within both the product and the industry.

In general, mechanical engineers may be particularly suited for work as a sales engineer, as many of them receive extensive training in the design of products. Work as a sales engineer is often a seamless transition, as the mechanical engineer can speak knowledgeably about the mechanics and technology of the products he or she sells.

Graduate Degrees in Mechanical Engineering

Earning a graduate degree (either a master’s or a PhD) in mechanical engineering may qualify an engineer for additional opportunities. As mentioned, a working engineer may be able to obtain a role as a project coordinator or manager with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a professional engineer (PE) license (which requires approximately five years of professional experience). The same individual, however, could qualify for this type of employment with a graduate degree. (Here it is important to note that a master’s degree is not a requirement for obtaining a PE license, nor does it remove the five-year work requirement as engineer; however, a master’s degree does provide extra credentials that may allow the engineer to work in a management capacity, without the need for a PE license.)

The compensation difference is fairly significant between a traditional mechanical engineer and a project manager on an engineering team, and engineering management roles often require an engineering graduate degree; to be sure, according to PayScale, while the median salary for mechanical engineers nationwide sits just below $67,000, engineer project managers earn almost $86,000 on average.

Finally, an individual with an undergraduate (and/or master’s) degree in mechanical engineering may pursue a PhD, as well. While a PhD in mechanical engineering is not necessary to work in the field, it is generally a prerequisite to work in academia, specifically as a professor. And the benefits of this choice, at least financially, are apparent; Salary.com asserts that the median pay for mechanical engineering professors nationwide is just over $117,000, with the range extending all the way to just below $160,000 per year. As such, it is clear that those who are willing to put in the work to obtain a doctorate degree, and who are interested in a career in academics, can benefit financially.

Outside of professorship, those who obtain a doctorate in mechanical engineering also have the option of performing high-level research. For example, those with a PhD in mechanical engineering may work on research related to design and manufacturing, biomedical mechanics, energy systems, micro-nano systems, or fluid dynamics, among many other areas. These research opportunities are typically associated with colleges or universities, or with independent private laboratories.

Mechanical engineers who are considering pursuing an advanced degree would be wise to earn an ABET-accredited undergraduate engineering degree, as that is often a requirement for graduate program admissions and will generally maximize an engineer’s educational options.

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