What You'll Do
By Sarah Stevenson
Materials engineering careers involve the study, development and testing of materials required in a wide range of manufactured products. Those in a materials science engineering career may work to find new uses for existing materials, or they may use basic types of materials—metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors and composites—to create brand-new substances that meet the specifications of a particular project.
Materials engineering entails the specialized study of materials at an atomic and electrochemical level. Most materials engineers focus on a particular type of material, such as metals (metallurgical engineering) or ceramics (ceramic engineering). Besides the design and production of materials, they may be involved in the recycling of materials or in ensuring their reliable and efficient manufacture. These skills are indispensable in a wide range of manufacturing industries where precision of material components is necessary.
Materials science and engineering careers generally begin on the technical side of the field, such as manufacturing or research and development. Materials engineers usually work on primary materials production, manufacturing of end products which use primary materials, or they're employed by services such as consulting or engineering firms. Some move on to work in consulting, sales or management. Though materials engineers are needed throughout nearly every type of industry, most work in the aerospace manufacturing industry, in architectural or engineering services, or in semiconductor and electronics manufacturing. In your employment search, keep an eye out for job titles like manufacturing engineer, process engineer, or materials development engineer.
The Future of Materials Science and Engineering Careers
As manufacturing sectors continue to search for more efficient new materials, incorporate recycled or reclaimed materials, and explore pioneering biotechnological and nanotechnological solutions, materials engineers will have a vital role to play.
Schools & Degrees
- Associate's Degree in Materials Engineering: Often, a bachelor's degree is required to start work as an engineer, but 2-year associate's degree programs are available in materials engineering technology or materials science, allowing the degree holder to begin work in a technician capacity or transfer to a 4-year program.
- Bachelor's Degree in Materials Engineering: Materials science and engineering careers usually begin with a bachelor's degree—a Bachelor of Science in either the general materials science and engineering field or in one of the specialty areas such as metallurgy or polymers. A few schools offer Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degrees.
- Master's and Doctoral Degrees in Materials Engineering: If you have a bachelor's degree in materials engineering or a related field, you may choose to deepen your knowledge and increase your job marketability with a graduate degree in the subject, such as a Master of Science, Master of Engineering (ME) or PhD degree. A master's degree takes one to two years to complete, and a PhD may require one to two years beyond that.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for materials engineers is $91,310. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.