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Programs Materials Science (B.Sc.) vs Materials Engineering (B.Eng)

  1. Jun 11, 2018 #1

    Looking for some guidance for my son. He will be a senior in high school in the fall and will be applying to university programs in Ontario, Canada. He is leaning towards studying chemistry and/or physics. We (his parents) absolutely want him to follow his passions, but of course are concerned about the employment prospects of a theoretical science degree. One potential area of study that is on his radar is materials science/nanotechnology as it seems to have more practical applications (and he is not fond of Biology so not leaning towards biotech or pharmacy). There are several schools here that offer degrees in this area, some as a B.Sc. in the faculty of science (usually a joint offering from the faculties of chemistry and physics) and some as a B.Eng/BASc. through the faculty of Engineering. From a career perspective can anyone provide any insight as to whether one degree or the other is more employable? Am I correct in believing that if he chooses to follow the B.Sc. route that he most likely will require at least an M.Sc. or MASc. in a related field to have any truly viable job prospects vs a B.Eng. with the qualifying work requirements for a P.Eng?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 12, 2018 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Neither chemistry nor physics are "theoretical science degrees". You can work on experimental or on theoretical aspects in both of them, and the employment prospects are good in both cases. All the degrees you listed are useful for many jobs, a MSc is advisable and a PhD doesn't harm.

    Especially for the physics degree: Yes, you learn some physics getting it, but that is not the main selling point of a physicist. Physicists learn how to solve problems - efficiently, thoroughly, and with a solid conclusion. That is a skill that is necessary nearly everywhere. You can find physicists doing physics (academia or product development), but you can also find them in engineering, in programming jobs, in finance, and many other fields. Ultimately it doesn't matter much if you model the temperature of some crystal, the number of users for a web forum or the value of a stock, you can use similar tools for all of these cases.
  4. Jun 12, 2018 #3


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    I don't have an answer for you. But as a word of caution, you need to get answers from people knowledgeable about the Canadian degrees and career opportunities. Here in the US, at most major universities with studies in materials (some exceptions), there is a consolidated Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and students graduate with a BS in Materials Science and Engineering.
  5. Jun 12, 2018 #4
    @mfb, Thanks. It appears I used incorrect terminology when differentiating between "theoretical" and "applied". What I really meant when I said "theoretical" was curiosity based research for the purposes of gaining knowledge or solving a societal problem such as you tend to find in an academic setting, vs when I said "applied" I meant the creation new products or implementation of manufacturing processes as found in industry. One I was attributing to "theoretical" science and a science degree (B.Sc./MSc./PhD.) and the other to "applied" science or and engineering degree (B.Eng/BASc.), which are two very different accreditation pathways. I understand however that's not how the distinction between the terms are defined.

    In any case I do understand that both physicists and engineers find employment in areas where it's necessary to think analytically be able to break down processes, whether that be in scientific research or in ways related to manufacturing, product development, finance, and IT etc. My husband works in finance and I know they hire a great number of engineers and I understand that a degree in physics provides similar transferable skills. My son however is interested in working in scientific research, and most likely more on the chemistry side, so I'm trying to find the best balance between being able to work in research but also be gainfully employed. Everything I've read recently has led me to believe that a career in academia is not viable so the alternative is to look to industry. Chemical engineering would then seem to make sense but I've read that chemical engineering doesn't have great employment prospects at the moment either (plus there's not a whole lot of chemistry actually involved in chemical engineering). That's what led me to the areas of nanotechnology and materials sciences but the degrees are offered both as a B.Sc and as a B.Eng. What I'm wondering is what are the employment prospects of a B.Sc. as compared to a B.Eng in this particular field? In the best scenario my son would pursue a B.Sc. both due to the greater flexibility in the degree structure and because of the greater emphasis on scientific lab courses vs engineering process courses.

    I hope that makes sense (or maybe I've just muddied the waters more).
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2018
  6. Jun 12, 2018 #5
    @CrysPhys, thanks for the feed back. In Canada, engineering degrees are either B.Eng or BASc. and are accredited as meeting the requirements for qualifying to become a P.Eng or professional engineer (which is required to work as a licensed engineer). I believe this would be the same as ABET accreditation in the U.S. A B.Sc. designation is reserved for degrees from faculties of science. While the majority of "materials" programs at universities here are offered through the faculties of engineering, there are a few programs offered through faculties of science, usually a joint offering between the departments of chemistry and physics.
    Thus there is a distinction between Materials Engineering and Materials Science programs, one leading a B.Eng and the potential to become a licensed engineer, and the other a B.Sc. The University of Waterloo offers both:


    as well as an Honours degree in Chemistry with a specialization in Materials Sciences


    I'm trying to figure out the employability prospects of each pathway, though I understand it will be different here in Canada vs in the U.S.
  7. Jun 12, 2018 #6


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    Note the options you've listed for Waterloo are more convoluted than you first presented:

    (a) https://uwaterloo.ca/science/future.../materials-and-nanosciences-regular-and-co-op

    does not describe a degree in Materials Science offered by a Dept of Materials Science. It describes an interdisciplinary degree [Honours Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Materials and Nanosciences] offered jointly by Dept of Chemistry and Dept of Physics and Astronomy.

    (b) https://uwaterloo.ca/nanotechnology/

    does not describe a degree in Materials Engineering offered by a Dept of Materials Engineering. It describes an interdisciplinary degree [Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) degree in Nanotechnology Engineering] offered collaboratively by the Dept of Chemical Engineering and the Dept of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, and the Chemistry Dept in the Faculty of Science.

    (c) https://uwaterloo.ca/science/future-undergraduate-students/programs/chemistry-co-op-and-regular

    does not describe an Honours degree in Chemistry with a specialization in Materials Sciences. It describes an Honours Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Chemistry offered by the Dept of Chemistry. One specialization is

    " Materials Chemistry
    Learn how to design and synthesize materials that have specific, useful properties — such as biodegradable plastics, self-healing polymers, or energy- storage materials."

    Materials chemistry is more limited in scope than materials science.

    Some general considerations (not specific to Canada) for making a choice:

    (1) Will your son stop with a bachelor's, continue to a master's, or continue to a PhD?

    (2) I personally don't care for ad hoc degrees in fields that are currently trendy (such as nano). I believe it's better to have a firm degree in an established major (such as physics, chemistry, or electrical engineering) and take electives in other depts to get interdisciplinary experience. In the US, a degree in materials science and engineering is now well evolved (e.g., see https://dmse.mit.edu/about/history for some historic background), and employers know what to expect from candidates with such a degree.

    Why is this important? Well, what happens if the currently trendy field falls out of favor? As a personal note, my early R&D career was focused on materials. I got my PhD in Physics, concentrating in solid-state physics, with many electives in materials science and engineering. When I got out of grad school, semiconductor materials and devices were very trendy, and I had no trouble landing a job. Less than 10 yrs later, this field suffered an industry-wide meltdown. But my solid foundation in physics allowed me to change careers several times.

    So someone fully qualified in a particular well-established discipline can switch to various fields within that particular discipline. But someone with, e.g., an ad hoc interdisciplinary nano degree (some knowledge of physics, some knowledge of chemistry, some knowledge of electrical engineering, ...) may have trouble finding a new career should nano have a meltdown.
  8. Jun 13, 2018 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    Many make a career in academia. Why do you want to exclude this option artificially, especially if your son is interested in it? Your son can decide later whether to stay in academia or to go to the industry.
  9. Jun 13, 2018 #8
    I am not discounting it outright, but I'm not holding my breath either. Articles in the media have been bringing attention to the difficult environment for PhD. graduates in obtaining positions in universities in Canada. Similar to reports from the U.S. the trend has been more and more towards universities hiring contract lecturers and fewer PhD. graduates are finding tenured positions. I am not holding my breath that my son would be able, after 10+ years and significant financial investment, to secure viable employment in academia. I think it wise to consider that the most likely outcome will be that he will need to seek employment in industry.

  10. Jun 13, 2018 #9
    Re #1, he understands that if chooses to pursue a B.Sc. in Chemistry or Physics and he wishes to find related employment or be involved in research, that graduate school is going to be required. Whether that just means getting a masters or going all the way to a PhD. I don't know. That will in part depend on his marks but also what kind of employment opportunities are available with just a masters degree. In terms of employment prospects an engineering degree appears on the surface to be more practical and cost effective especially with co-op (5 years undergrad + relevant work experience = P.Eng vs 6-7 years for a masters or 10+ years for a PhD.), and they often make much more money, but the employment landscape for engineers outside of software/computer/ee is not looking so robust at the moment either, especially for chemical. In any case I think his heart is really set on research and development but time will tell. Unfortunately he has to decide right off the bat which path he wishes to pursue. While it is possible to switch from Engineering to Science should he change his mind, the transition in the other direction is not always possible, especially if he attends a academically selective school.

    Some other alternatives he is considering, include:

    Engineering Chemistry

    Engineering Physics

    Integrated Sciences with a Concentration in Chemistry or Physics
  11. Jun 13, 2018 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    And you don't have to.
    A BSc -> MSc and/or PhD in chemistry and physics is respected by both "the industry" and academia. You keep your options open that way.
  12. Jun 13, 2018 #11
    Agreed. I just don't know if he's going to want to put in the time and effort to get a PhD or even if he will have the marks. I hadn't really considered it as a realistic option. The image of the cash strapped struggling graduate student comes to mind. A masters degree seems so much more feasible (again providing he has the requisite marks) especially if he could get into a fast track BSc/MSc program. In any case I'm thinking of back up options in case he doesn't go that far. An engineering degree on the surface seems much more employable with just an undergraduate degree but a) I'm not really sure traditional engineering is really his thing and b) prospects for engineering graduates in actual engineering/science roles are not that great at the moment either. To be honest, he really is cut out to be an academic and I can really see him being involved in cutting edge research. It's just that the academic path and the employment landscape to that end seems very uncertain. As a parent you really want your kids to be successful and it's hard to think about them struggling financially. On the other hand I don't want him in a soul sucking job just for the income.
  13. Jun 13, 2018 #12


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    I'll repeat a general comment I've made in similar posts ("What major will give me the highest probability of landing a job when I graduate?"): Forecasts of the job market 10 yrs out (and even 4 yrs out) are futile when the historical record shows that the job market can invert (boom-to-bust or bust-to-boom) within about a year. One of the most egregious examples is the InterNet Bubble Burst of the early 2000's (e.g., Nortel in Canada was hiring like crazy in late 1999, but was laying off like mad by mid 2001; and the once leading hi-tech company in Canada had entered a state of exponential decay leading to its eventual demise). And this was not an isolated instance.
  14. Jun 13, 2018 #13
    @CrysPhys, very true. So what you are saying is he should follow his heart and pursue which ever degree he finds the most interesting. I'm inclined to agree but his father thinks he should go for engineering and I've started to second guess. The narrative among high school students these days is that unless you go to university for business, computer science, or engineering or are aiming for professional school (medicine/law/dentistry are the most popular) you are headed for life as a Starbucks barrista. I know that's nonsense (what do high school students know), but the employment landscape at the moment does seem pretty bleak for new graduates with general degrees. The problem is all I can envision is my son ending up as a run of the mill bench chemist making minimum wage if he gets a B.Sc. or working at a behemoth chemical company doing something really boring if he gets a B.Eng (I don't really know what chemical engineers do specifically, I just envision him wearing a hard hat and lab coat and a large industrial factory in the background lol). What I'd like for him is to be able to make a meaningful contribution to science and society as part of team that is working on some kind of cutting edge research (but not just doing repetitive grunt work). I tend to be pragmatic so I figure that there must be a happy middle ground somewhere that allows him to follow his passions but still make a living wage. The other alternative is that he becomes a rock musician lol but as a mother I would really prefer he didn't.
  15. Jun 13, 2018 #14


    Staff: Mentor

    You said he is interested in research. That is somewhat in conflict with this statement.

    The unemployment rate with a MSc or PhD in physics, chemistry or similar is tiny, and most have well-paid jobs. I don't know numbers for Canada but that is something you can look up. And the 2% (?) that really can't find a suitable job would probably struggle with any other degree as well. Most don't end up in academia - so what? You keep that option open, and if you don't want to pursue it or don't find a suitable position you can go to "the industry" (actually many different industries).
  16. Jun 13, 2018 #15
    @mfb, So:

    B.Sc./M.Sc./Ph.D. = research/teaching in academia or research in industry
    B.Sc./L.L.B = patent law
    B.Sc./M.B.A = business
    B.Sc./B.Ed = teaching
    B.Sc./M.Sc. or M.A.Sc. = something in industry?
    B.Sc. = ?


    B.Eng-P.Eng = engineering, or finance, or IT, or something else business related
    B.Eng = finance, or IT, or something else business related
  17. Jun 13, 2018 #16


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    Does the Canadian system allow you to start with a B. Eng. and continue to a Masters and a PhD, or combine it with other degrees as you have listed starting with a B.Sc?
  18. Jun 13, 2018 #17
    Yes. A B.Eng would allow you to do a M.A.Sc. (masters of applied science) or a M.Eng followed by a PhD. but I'm pretty sure it would have to be specifically in the field of engineering that the B.Eng is in. I don't think you could do a M.Sc. in chemistry or physics with most undergraduate degrees in engineering without first taking additional undergraduate courses in chemistry or physics over and above your degree. The exception to that would be the engineering science programs like I listed above (engineering physics or chemistry) which give the equivalent of a B.Eng and a B.Sc. and thus providing the qualifications to pursue graduate work in either the prerequisite engineering or science discipline. An LLB or MBA would be options as well as they are open to applicants with any undergraduate degree but I'm not sure about a B.Ed. (teaching high school could possibly be an option). The only reason I didn't list them for engineering is that an undergrad degree in engineering on it's own leads to quite a few employment options such that further schooling isn't really necessary (but certainly you could continue if you wanted to). With only a B.Sc. your employment options are much more limited especially if you want to work in that field.

    Another alternative available at a few schools would be to follow a B.Sc. in chemistry or physics with an M.A.Sc in engineering, but you would not qualify for licencing as a professional engineer without doing additional licencing exams.
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