The science careers in engineering are really a varied collection of specialties. In general, engineers apply science and math to arrive at practical solutions to problems, develop new theories or designs, and test those designs. A computer engineer designs and tests computer hardware, while a civil engineer designs and tests bridges, buildings, and their components. Aerospace engineers design, test, and build new airplanes and space vehicles, while agricultural engineers improve processes for growing and storing crops and for conserving natural resources. Industrial engineers plan ways to improve processes for manufacturing everything that we use, and mechanical engineers develop and test equipment and machines, such as refrigeration units, elevators, and robots used in manufacturing.

Most engineering disciplines require a bachelor’s degree, although there is a specialty known as engineering technologist, requiring an associate’s degree. Research or management positions usually require an advanced degree, such as a PhD. All fifty states have systems requiring licensure for engineers who work directly with the public. It is a rigorous process, including graduation from an accredited school, four years of relevant experience, and passing a state examination. The title of Professional Engineer (PE) is conferred after these have been successfully completed.


Engineers usually work in offices, spending much of their time on computers or with technical instruments. Some work in outside conditions, including those in agricultural or civil engineering areas.

In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) counted 1.6 million engineering jobs. The highest concentrations of specialties were in civil, mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineering. The BLS predicts engineering jobs to grow at the average for all jobs, about 11 percent between 2008 and 2018. Some specialties will grow faster than others. For example, biomedical engineering is forecast as the fastest growing. Others, such as electrical and computer hardware engineers, are expected to grow more slowly than average.

Here are some median annual salaries for a variety of specialties, with data collected in 2008:

  • Petroleum engineers: $108,000
  • Computer hardware engineers: $97,400
  • Aerospace engineers: $92,500
  • Chemical engineers: $84, 680
  • Biomedical engineers: $77,400
  • Mechanical engineers: $74,920
  • Civil engineers: $74,600

Federal salaries range from $81,085 for agricultural engineers to $126,788 for ceramic engineering.

Last Updated: 06/05/2014


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