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Doing research in Engineering without an engineering degree?

  1. Jan 25, 2009 #1
    This is my first post on these forums, and I want to start by saying this is a great resource for almost all of the questions I have asked myself about University issues and scientific ideas.

    I know from previously read threads that there are many problems with BA/BS graduates getting engineering jobs without an ABET credited diploma in some kind of Engineering. And apparently, getting a Masters degree in an engineering field does not always help with this problem.

    I am an Applied Math major at a small liberal arts college who would have graduated from my BA program with a 3.8 GPA this spring. After much research and reflection, I realized that I wouldn't be happy doing the kind of research and working in the programs for which I was qualified to apply. I didn't take a subject GRE test, and the only previous research experience I have is a rather disappointing REU at my home University last Summer. So, I have decided to take a fifth year of study in order to redirect my work and possible career options. Ideally, I want to get a Masters and PhD and work in a research and development setting (academic or commercial) for nanomaterials or personal electronics. My current plan is to continue taking physics courses and graduate with a double major in Applied Math and Physics, and then enter an electrical engineering or materials science Masters/PhD program. I understand that there will be some time for which I will be making up deficiencies in engineering classes, and I am fine with spending more time to get a higher degree if it means I can do the work I want. I would be graduating with a few classes in Computer Science, a year of electronics, classical thermodynamics, and E&M from Physics, and a large amount of Applied Math. My university only has an Environmental engineering department, so the few engineering courses I could take would be rather specialized and build off of previous EnE principles that I don't have time to sit through. I would gladly take something like Systems Analysis though, if it meant improving my grad school/employment chances. I will also be applying to many different robotics/engineering/materials science REU programs this week, so I will have had a little bit of research doing the kind of work I hope to do as a career.

    My real question is the validity of this plan. Are there many people who have found work in research with only a Masters in engineering? I would expect that it is harder to start as a low-level employee and work your way up when the job you want to pursue is experimental or theoretical, rather than an established method that the ABET programs certify you to do. I am willing to put in the time and work, as well as relocate and make sacrifices to get my life on track. Thanks for any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 29, 2009 #2
    Should I provide more information? I am really curious about this. I would hope that a Graduate degree from a well-connected university would get my foot in the door at a private research facility, even if it meant losing some flexibility when it comes to working in a standard engineering role.
  4. Jan 29, 2009 #3
    There's quite a few opportunities for a Masters in Engineering graduate to find work in a research facility...if they send you back for a PhD, would you be open for that? Just wondering. Last summer I was interning with Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, CA, a sort of private research based corporation with FFRDC and from their statistics, there's a good number of them that just have masters.
  5. Jan 29, 2009 #4
    At private research facilities and public/national lab type facilities, it probably just depends (to some extent) on how your application materials get filtered (in this era of technology)... if the job listing expressly lists that you need professional engineering certification (PE, which often requires an undergraduate degree in an accredited engineering program), then unfortunately some of the modern methods of filtering applications might work to your disadvantage, even if you're qualified to do the work. If the job doesn't list this explicitly, then you might be more likely to get through the filtering process and have your materials viewed by an actual human, who could look at your unique background favorably. I wouldn't be too discouraged. As aerospaceut10 mentions, there are employment opportunities out there, and it's really best to pursue your interests for long-term personal health (and I think the opportunities are probably better than in Applied Math!)

    Good luck with your REU quest, and welcome to the forums!
  6. May 1, 2010 #5
    I'm also would want to get an engineering R&D position in industry. I've spoken to some engineers via email about those kinds of positions and they said that it is possible to obtain them with just an MS (probably with thesis). They said you're more likely to get them with a phD, but I'm not sure how much more likely.

    I actually interviewed with the Aerospace Corporation not long ago, and the people working in the propulsion department mostly had phD's.
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