With many disciplines of engineering and specializations, it could be hard to figure out what type of engineering is right for you. Especially on the front-end of your studies, before you know what you are getting into.
Engineers have created, modified, and enhanced every aspect of our daily lives through their creative design and wealth of knowledge about how things work. Each type of engineer has contributed to the diverse and complex inner workings of our world, and we are the better for it.
Let’s take a look at what the field of engineering is, how it has contributed to the daily lives of people all over the world, and what the future holds for each of the engineering professions. Our hope is that being more informed about what the field of engineering looks like post-graduation can help you make more educated decisions about what is best for you. But first, let’s define engineering as a field of study.
What is engineering?
Engineers are the professionals that bridge the gap between coming up with a revolutionary idea and making that idea a reality. The job title “engineer,” is actually derived from the Latin word “ingenious,” roughly translating to “cleverness.” There is no surprise there.
Engineers are problem solvers; they see a hole in a system, design, create solutions to fix it, and produce smoother functionality. Engineers are creators, designing and realizing innovations that make our lives easier, more well-informed, or better for their specific contexts and purposes. Engineers are interdisciplinary innovators; although many engineers study most heavily in either chemistry, physics, biology, or other sub-disciplines of math and science courses, they are able to draw from each of these disciplines to make well-rounded design decisions.
If you identify with any of the above descriptors: problem solvers, creators, and interdisciplinary innovators, then engineering may just be the perfect fit for you. At the cross-section of creativity and book knowledge, engineers with a degree engage in design, development, research, management, and even commercial duties. An engineering degree unlocks unbound potential that allows students to become engineers, shaping the world for a more efficient, more safe, and more thoughtfully curated tomorrow.
What are engineering specializations?
Engineering is a big field with many job titles, responsibilities, and disciplines that compose it. It isn’t possible for an engineer to be well-versed and well-equipped to serve in all of the disciplines of engineering, creating a need for specialization to narrow down one’s, well, specialty.
Engineering specializations allow engineers to concentrate on a certain area of study or focus throughout their schooling and careers. While all engineers study a foundation of math and physics, some disciplines spend time on circuitry while others spend time studying hydrology. While it is good for an engineer to have a basic understanding of other non-specialized concepts that are still within the field of engineering, you don’t want an environmental engineer to design the HVAC system in your house or the electrical engineer to choose the layout of your home for optimal runoff and drainage.
Foundational skills for all engineers
All engineers could stand to benefit from refining these skills throughout their education and career:
- Problem-solving – engineers’ jobs are built around the idea of solving problems; identifying problems and creating optimal solutions is the definition of being an engineer.
- Communication – between actively listening to clients and delegating design tasks to a team, engineers must be clear and effective communicators to get tasks and projects done timely and accurately.
- Innovation – complex problems warrant creative solutions; engineers must be able to pivot and adapt throughout the design process.
- Attention to detail – even minor errors can throw a delicate system. Attention to detail enables engineers to detect even the tiniest of problems to tweak and keep projects moving forward.
- Teamwork – most engineers must collaborate across disciplines or within a team. You know what they say: “teamwork makes the dream work.”
Tips for Choosing Your Engineering Specialization
Choosing your specific engineering specialty can feel like a big decision. Here are some tips to help you feel equipped and empowered in making your engineering specialization decision.
- Find out what your passions are
- Ask for input from professional engineers
- Review salary potential
- Evaluate your skill set
- Consider the job outlook and duties of each specialization
Below, we have attached a brief synopsis of a few different types of engineering so that you know what kinds of fields you could study at the university level. This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good place to start.
The Different Types of Engineering
Let’s take a deeper look at some of the disciplines of engineering that flood our world with knowledge and resources about how things work and how they can work more optimally.
Responsible for the creation of vehicles and innovations that take flight in and above our atmosphere, aerospace engineers are able to use scientific principles to make dreams of flight possible.
Aerospace engineers combine disciplines like computer science, earth science, physics, and math to create and build design blueprints into objects that can take flight. Specifically, aerospace engineers typically land into one of two categories: aeronautical engineers (aircraft specialists) and astronautical engineers (spacecraft specialists).
Aerospace engineers must be well-versed in science and math disciplines to not only graduate with their degree but also to flourish in their field. Careers in aerospace engineering pose ever-evolving challenges to an engineer’s creativity, understanding of aerodynamics and flight mechanics, thermodynamics, and structural analysis, among many other things. Aerospace engineers may land job positions such as: aircraft designers, mechanical engineers, flight inspectors, data processing managers, or control and instrumentation engineers. There are many specialization routes that an aeronautical engineer can take. Higher education after acquiring a bachelor’s degree is another way to unlock potential job titles and positions in the aerospace field.
Biomedical engineers combine their fundamental engineering background with the biology and healthcare industry. Designing medical equipment, artificial limbs and training healthcare professionals on these biomedical innovations makes for an exciting job with an easy-to-measure direct impact on people.
Biomedical engineers spend a lot of time doing research and partnering with pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, manufacturers, and hospitals.
Chemical engineers often land in industrial development and manufacture of chemical products. With a background in chemistry (obviously), math, and physics, chemical engineers may find themselves supervising quality management of chemical product development, working in analytical chemistry, or contributing to mining engineering projects.
With their wide array of knowledge in the engineering field, a chemical engineering job is applicable for companies that work in biochemistry and mining alike. There are a lot of unique roles that chemical engineers are eligible to contribute to our ever-thriving society.
Civil and structural engineering
Civil and structural engineers truly are the builders and makers of daily life around us. These engineering disciplines study at the crossroads of physics, hydraulics, city planning, geology, and math. This knowledge is then applied to create safe construction sites and creates ASCE-approved designs for the structures around us. The creation of dams, bridges, buildings, streets, sewage, and drainage systems under our cities, airports, etc., can be directly tied to the designs of civil engineers.
One of the more recent developments in the civil engineering field is the integration of sustainable, low-impact materials and practice into the design and planning of civil projects. This is an exciting direction for civil engineers!
Civil and structural engineers work in all kinds of industries – from water resources to aviation design, transportation engineering to construction. This kind of degree is helpful for all kinds of fields, allowing young engineers to find exactly where they fit into the broader picture of creating a more sustainable world that coincides with human thriving.
Electrical engineers are the missing piece between the bare-bone design of a project and those projects coming to life with electricity. From generators to motors, transformers to ignition systems, electrical engineers bring light (literally) to modern life in ways that many of us attribute our lifeline to.
Electrical engineering degree holders may find themselves in jobs that focus on designing components of electronics, circuitry, electrical controls, or the designing of instrumentation devices. Whether you prefer working on small components or larger projects, electrical engineering has a wide range of possibilities for study and work.
Environmental engineers are the advocates and professionals that create a buffer between other engineering disciplines and our natural world. Most environmental engineers work in some type of waste management position, protecting our planet’s water, land, and air from industrial production through innovative design and creation.
Environmental engineering combines knowledge of ecology, physics, chemistry, and math to create ecologically sound designs for engineered solutions that plague our environment. This important job entitles environmental engineers to both prevent poor waste management of current practices and replace those poor practices with more environmentally responsible solutions.
Industrial engineers create environments for industries to run smoothly, safely, and cost-effectively while also delivering results with less waste and less money. This discipline of engineering is all about optimizing systems and industrial processes.
Industrial engineers may see themselves consulting within the manufacturing industry, with engineering consulting agencies, research institutes, and/or businesses that need help identifying problems in production and creating viable solutions.
Manufacturing engineers focus their knowledge on overseeing the research and design of new products while ensuring that the processes and systems used to create such products are equipped to do so. Simply put, manufacturing engineers are responsible for turning raw materials into a functional finished product.
Manufacturing engineering can apply to all of the engineering disciplines (for example, an electrical engineer can perform a manufacturing engineering role). This makes manufacturing engineering a very adaptable, not one-size-fits-all job title that is shaped by the supporting specializations that fill the job opening.
Mechanical engineering is probably the broadest discipline of engineering, also meaning that mechanical engineers are able to adapt to their work environment exceedingly well. From mechanical design to testing products, working in automation or energy resources, you can find mechanical engineers in every corner of the industry.
Mechanical engineers are responsible for the development of machines that we use every day. They are able to combine knowledge of physics, materials science, hydraulics, and other STEM disciplines into concepts of force and movement that allow them to design the machines that make our lives easier.
Petroleum engineers are absolutely vital to the extraction and conversion process of petroleum into the products that we use every day to fuel our lifestyles. Petroleum is used to create products like: gasoline, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and asphalt – products that we use every day. Engineers that work in this industry are responsible for extracting, processing, and creating products that are derived from oil and gas, transforming them into usable products.
Graduates with a petroleum engineering degree are often on the search for high-paying jobs, including: drilling engineers, reservoir engineers, well integrity engineers, and natural gas engineers. Engineers in this field are constantly evolving methods of energy creation and extraction to fuel our day-to-day activities.
Software engineers are the tech wizards that have made daily communication and most of our jobs possible through the development and refinement of software programs. Most software engineers are funneled into two categories: systems software engineers and applications software engineers.
Systems software engineers create compatibility networks for organizations, linking pre-existing systems to each other for seamless functionality. Applications software engineers, on the other hand, develop and create the applications that we use at work and on our personal devices. The key for software engineers to be successful is to consistently create a user-friendly interface that is effective and concise. Software engineers that are able to do that make the big bucks.
What is the most popular type of engineering?
The most popular engineering degree that is handed out annually is mechanical engineering by almost twice as much as the runner-up. Mechanical Engineers have a wide variety of skill sets and general knowledge that allow them to serve in a wide variety of career and job titles.
Types of engineering degrees
Undergraduate of engineering
Many engineering firms accept undergraduate engineering degree holders, as much of the engineering profession is on-the-job learning. But having that degree in hand is what gets you in the door at an engineering firm. The undergraduate degree adequately covers all of the bases of engineering, primarily math and sciences, that are needed to prepare you for a career outside of the university setting.
Graduate of engineering
Graduate degrees in the engineering field are not required for a successful career. Many graduate degrees require a bachelor’s degree and sufficient experience in the engineering field for acceptance into the program. Graduate degrees are helpful for those that want to increase their expertise and/or spend more time focusing on engineering specializations.
Doctorate of engineering (EngD or DEng)
Doctoral degrees in the engineering field are the equivalent of a Ph.D. in engineering. This degree type is the highest qualification of academic engineering and is most helpful to engineers hoping to pursue professor or postdoctoral research positions. Doctorate degrees are not necessary for engineers hoping to work in the field.
Online engineering degrees
There are not a ton of online engineering degree options currently, but this field of study is growing, creating opportunities for people to make career advancements without the expenses and time that are necessary for in-person university studies. Most online programs are geared towards engineering degree holders that already have their PE but are hoping to grow in management or business administration.
If you are looking into higher education in the engineering field, but are not sure where to start, consider an online engineering management master’s degree, such as the program on offer at the University of Ottawa. Pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management is the perfect next step for experienced engineers or STEM professionals looking to advance their careers. Combining engineering expertise with management principles can qualify you to better mobilize people, technology, and money in ways that optimize your practice and the way you execute projects.
With many options and areas of focus within the field of engineering, there is a discipline and field of study for everyone. Beyond studying in university, engineers are able to contribute to society in so many ways with such a large variety of different job titles and service areas. We hope that this article helps you understand and narrow down your options as you begin to figure out where you fit in and how your passions can serve others through engineering practices.