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Prospective Nuclear Engineering Career

  1. Nov 24, 2009 #1
    Hey all,

    I'm going to be graduating this year from high school and attending college for engineering, but as for what type of engineering specifically, I'm kind of up for grabs. Nuclear engineering really interests me though, so if anyone could forward me to some good sources of information on it, or tell me more about it I would be very appreciative.

    -Hank Rearden
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 25, 2009 #2
    Here are links to two websites with basic information on different kinds of engineering.



    The first year for engineering students at most universities is the same regardless of their major. Some will also offer classes and lectures held by engineers in different fields to give this students an idea of what interests them. Since you won't have to make up your mind yet I would recommend to continue research the different fields to see what interests you the most, and take advantage of the lectures and/or classes whatever college you decide on offers during your freshmen year. One obvious thing that is very important if you are leaning towards nuclear e is to make sure the school you are applying to actually offers it as an undergraduate program. It is not as common as a degree as a lot of the other engineering disciplines so a lot of schools might not offer it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  4. Dec 5, 2009 #3
    It really depends on what you want to do. People who want to design rockets and cars become mechanical engineers. People who want to design great buildings and bridges become civl engineers. However, these things all overlap. Companies who design nuclear power plants hire nuke engineers and material scientists to design core materials, mechanical engineers to design the fluid and power systems, chemical engineers for purification systems, civils for structures, electrical engineers for power systems and instrumentation, and so on. At your age I think you have time to decide and you can always change your mind. In my experience, most nuclear engineers go on to get masters or PhD degrees unless they are working on the system reliability or instrumentation of some kind. In fact, I don't think many universities offer undergrad degrees specifically in nuclear engineering. It's typically a minor and a graduate program. Things could have changed though.

    Not to disagree with the other poster, but I'm not sure if it matters if you get an undergrad degree in NE. Most guys I know who work for nuclear power companies or labs didn't have undergrads in nuke and the ones who actually perform fuel/core design have advanced degrees in nuclear engineering or material science. In fact, I normally tell engineering students who are undecided to stay in a more general field like mechanical engineering until they've decided for sure. I know a lot of MEs and EEs who went on to do nuclear work but I don't know of any nukes who decided to go design jet engines for GE after getting their degrees.
  5. Dec 5, 2009 #4
    Staying in a more general field like ME is a good idea if you plan on going to grad school for NE. Grad schools will accept most backgrounds into their NE grad programs. Majoring in ME with a minor in NE is a very safe way to go since you could always work as a ME when you graduate if you decide not to go to grad school. I think in my previous post I wasn't considering the possibility of grad school for some reason. Thanks for pointing that out.
  6. Dec 5, 2009 #5
    If I knew he was adamant about working in the nuclear field I probably wouldn't have added that, but since he is in high school I figured there was a good chance he might change his mind. I only know two people with undergrad NE degrees who didn't go to grad school and both work in areas with a lot of non-NEs. I think grad school is just the nature of the NE beast, at least in the US.
  7. Dec 6, 2009 #6
    I disagree with the 2 previous posts about going on to get a graduate degree in nuclear engineering. A graduate degree is not necessary - I know many of my undergraduate classmates who went out into industry or the national labs in a nuclear engineering field. In fact, I'd say more went on to work than went to graduate school.

    Those who went to the workplace worked at places like Westinghouse or Areva, to the utilities designing core reload patterns, or to places like KAPL or Bettis (national labs) designing reactor cores for submarines and aircraft carriers.

    My path was the following: went to school thinking i wanted to design cars. I at first was a mechanical engineer. Eventually took a chemistry class that touched a bit on nuclear physics, and I was hooked. The next semester (the start of my junior year), I began a dual-degree in mechanical and nuclear engineering. After getting my B.S.'s i went on to the nuclear work force.

    I hope this helps "Hank_Rearden" (nice one, I could use some Rearden Metal right about now...).
  8. Dec 7, 2009 #7
    My intent was just to say that, as a high school student, the original poster may end up changing his/her mind about nuclear engineering. This is why I recommended at least starting in a broader field such as ME or EE because it is much easier to move into NE than out of NE.

    In my experience, engineers working in the nuclear field with a BS are reliability, secondary systems or mechanical design people. Most of the new genration of core design and primary systems folks I know have advanced degrees. I used to work at Bettis myself and a lot of the non-NEs doing design still had advanced degrees. Of course this may not be the case outside of the defense sector. I wouldn't know since I've never worked on the commerical nuke side.

    Just to add another thing in case I'm scaring anyone off, it really is possible to change fields whenever you want, even if out of school. So if you have a big interest in nuclear engineering then go for it. The best advice I can give is to learn as much as you can about what NEs do and think of what kind of job you see yourself doing everyday. When you get into school, I would highly recommend a co-op/internship program.

    Best of luck.
  9. Dec 8, 2009 #8


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    On the commercial nuke side (at least where I work) an advanced degree hardly means squat, you don't even necessarily get a higher salary (e.g. maybe just a one time bonus). Basically if I stayed in school for 2-3 more years to get my masters I would never pay off the wage difference from missing those years of work compared to any additional earnings.

    That's not to say that an advanced degree doesn't have any benefits - it may get you a job opening over another whom only has a B.S. or you may decide you want to go into academia in the future. But if you are interested in working in commercial nuclear power an advanced degree is not a good bargain,YMMV.

    Your best course is probably the dual major route in any case. That gives you lots of options, lets you change your mind at any time and may help getting a job.
  10. Dec 8, 2009 #9
    correct me if im wrong but if you want to go into research (which i dont know if this is what you want or not) you will need an advanced degree (a bachleors will not suffice)
  11. Dec 10, 2009 #10
    While this is very true in my experience, it is also worth mentioning that this does not mean that you need to go straight through to your PhD out of high school. This is normally the quickest way to get a PhD but if you were to go to work for a national lab or commerical company you could always leave to get an additional degree or, if you're lucky, get your company to pay for it and let you use some of the work from your real job as part of your PhD dissertation.
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