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Engineering Civil Engineering vs Nuclear Engineering

  1. Mar 12, 2012 #1
    I am currently finishing up my freshman year of college and am a civil engineering major. I have been considering switching to nuclear engineering recently. I want to know if nuclear engineering would be a good fit for me. I don't really enjoy chemistry very much, I strongly prefer physics (which is a one of the reasons that I chose civil). How important is chemistry in nuclear engineering? Also, which would you say has better career prospects in the future? Also, what exactly do most nuclear engineers do?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2012 #2
    I am currently a junior and I am doing CE with a minor in Nuclear Engineering. I don't know if your school offers this option. But I chose this because it seems like there are opportunities for CE specifically Structural Engineers to work in the design of Nuclear Power Plants. Not the reactors, but the actual facility.
  4. Mar 21, 2012 #3
    I'm a Nuclear Engineer. I worked with a BS as a Reactor Engineer and I am now working with my PhD as a Research Scientist. Nuclear Engineering has a few sub-areas of interest, with the two primary areas being: 1. Nuclear Power and 2. Radiation Studies. A BS who wants to work on the Nuclear Power side will probably work at a nuclear power plant, at the headquarters of the nuclear division of a utility, work for a vendor like GE or Westinhouse, or work in the Navy nuclear area with subs. I may be leaving something out as I'm typing this up quickly. A BS on the Radiation side may work in the same areas, but will focus moreso on matters such as radiation shielding, radiation protection, radiation detection, or some other disciplines. At the BS level you see people working as reactor engineers, nuclear engineers, criticality safety engineers, probabilistic risk assessment engineers, systems engineers, I&C engineers, and so forth.

    At the PhD level, the work is more research-based. You said that you like physics. Do you enjoy programming? If so, then perhaps an area that would interest you would be working in radiation transport. There are several transport codes used in the nuclear industry. Some are stochastic (Monte Carlo) and some are deterministic. These codes are used in both sides of nuclear engineering. Much of my day to day work involves the use of those codes, however, I have several colleagues who develop them.

    Nuclear Engineering also sets you up for some other specialty areas such as Health Physics and Medical Physics. If you have an interest in Medicine, I have a friend who decided to use his Nuclear Engineering degree as preparation for Med School. He is now becoming a Radiologist.

    I'm short on time right now, so I'm not really doing Nuclear Engineering full justice, but I hope this was able to help.

    Oh, and as for Civil Engineering, the ones I know who have a BS in the area are having a tough time right now with the lower demand (currently because of the cutbacks in construction) and lower pay, but the ones I know with PhD's are doing OK.
  5. Mar 21, 2012 #4
    One thing to consider is to continue the track you're on now and get a CivE BS degree, which is a broader degree than Nuclear Engineering (even broader degrees would be EE or ME). Simultaneously, you could either get a minor in NE (as tiperez mentioned) or go on to earn a graduate (MS or PhD) in NE. That way, if you decided you didn't like NE or the demand for NE goes down, you could still fall back on the training you earned for your BS as a Civil/Mechanical/Electrical Engineer. They will always be in demand (just check job descriptions - most require or prefer candidates with these degrees).

    On the other hand, if you get a BS in Nuclear Engineering, and the demand for Nuclear Engineers in the job market goes down, you have nothing to fall back on. Or if you decide you like some other field more, (e.g. bioengineering), one of these broader degrees may help you get into said graduate program easier than an NE BS. Diversification of knowledge makes you valuable as a potential employee.

    I'm doing a BS in ME and should graduate by next year, and am planning on doing a minor in NE. I hope to do a graduate degree in NE, as well.

    This is by no means doctrine, just something to consider. The job market can fluctuate quite a bit, especially if there aren't more reactors that are going to be commissioned.
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