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Profession Engineer — Facts

Study duration
  • Bachelor's degree — 3-4 years
  • Master's degree — 1-2 years
  • PhD — 4-6 years
Avg. tuition fees per year, worldwide
  • Bachelor's degree — 28,000 USD
  • Master's degree — 25,000 USD
Prestigious awardsCharles Stark Draper Prize, International Award of Merit in Structural Engineering, Edison Award
Professional holiday4th Marchmay be different depending on the country
Related specialtiesTechnician, inventor, project manager, researcher, teacher

Who is an engineer?

An engineer is a specialist who invents, designs, analyzes, builds, and tests machines, systems, structures, devices, and materials, taking into account their practicality, safety, and cost. The challenge of engineers is to apply scientific discoveries to the needs of people and businesses.

Technological progress happened thanks to the representatives of this profession. Roads, bridges, trains, planes, ships, buildings, computers, telephones, all of those are the work of engineers.

The activities of engineers can be related to programming, biology, mathematics, chemistry, bioengineering, as well as military affairs, economics, ecology, and other areas. Accordingly, there are many engineering specialties: surveyor, designer, estimator, technologist, electronics, mechanic, electrician, power engineer, builder, designer, tester, electrical engineer, heat engineer, mechatronics engineer, ecologist, etc.

Salary of an engineer in different countries

Country/regionMin. Salary/yearAvg. salary/yearConstruction engineerBiochemical engineerMechanical engineer
US42,200 USD91,700 USD85,600 USD83,100 USD87,000 USD
United Kingdom22,737 USD71,682 USD80,298 USD72,400 USD47,868 USD
Australia16,170 USD50,972 USD55,697 USD48,976 USD53,234 USD
Canada23,723 USD74,877 USD79,325 USD75,618 USD59,308 USD
Germany12,661 USD39,929 USD41,088 USD36,122 USD43,446 USD
France13,758 USD43,239 USD45,205 USD42,722 USD43,446 USD
Russia6,469 USD9,704 USD7,763 USD9,542 USD9,218 USD
Czech Republic8,319 USD26,242 USD29,194 USD25,672 USD24,669 USD
China13,071 USD41,212 USD45,125 USD40,796 USD49,954 USD
Singapore23,500 USD50,989 USD48,479 USD47,174 USD61,941 USD

The figures in the table are approximate. Main source: SalaryExplorer

The advantages of the engineering profession

  • A wide range of specializations. Engineering can be associated with many disciplines. For example, mathematics, physics, ecology, mining, biology, chemistry, etc. Students can choose any direction that fits their tastes.
  • Dynamic career ladder and employment. Engineers are always needed, so graduates usually find work quickly and often start working part-time during their studies[1][2]. An engineering career also has development and growth. For example, overseas initial positions are called junior, more advanced — senior.
  • High salaries. Engineers in many countries have stable and high earnings. For example, in the US, engineers are ranked 17th and 18th in the top 20 highest paid professions[3], while in the UK their average income is about 71,802 USD, which is twice the national average salary[4]. Although it is worth noting that in the CIS region, and some other countries, humble salaries offered by the entry-level positions often test the newcomers' desire to continue working in that field.

Disadvantages of engineering profession

  • Long process of learning the craft. This can be said about many professions, but especially about engineers. It takes quite a long time before a specialist is given large projects. In many countries, you first need to obtain a license and only then you can start working.
  • Great responsibility. The responsibility of the engineer is obvious: the lives of people depend on the safety of buildings and infrastructure. It is not for nothing that design specialists are criminally liable for their work.
  • Adverse health effects. Engineers of many specializations work in hazardous working conditions: vibrations, fumes, noise. Workers in the industrial sector or in the field of mining also risk injuries and face other health hazards[5].

Engineering specializations

Engineering deals with many branches of science: mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, ecology, bioengineering. It is rather difficult to choose from such a large number of directions. Some of the highest-paid majors are Big Data Engineercan work both with hardware and software, Petroleum Engineer, and Software Engineertechnically an IT field[6]. You cannot completely neglect salary sizes, but making them the main criterion when choosing a direction is unwise. As a rule, such motivation won’t be enough to go through difficult studies at a university, and then do it all your life for your own pleasure.

You should rather start from your interests and hobbies. If during childhood you were fond of the structure of devices and machines, dismantled toys into parts, and reassembled them, then mechanical engineering might suit you. If you love planes and engines, aerospace engineering is a great choice. It is also recommended to take free internships and see what engineers of various specializations deal with in practice.

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How to become an engineer?

Education is a prerequisite of becoming an engineer. Engineering specialties are offered in almost all higher education institutions. In some countries, such as the USA and Canada, to start working, you first need to obtain a license.

Vocational education of an engineer

There are a few options for obtaining vocational education in the field of engineering. For example, community colleges in the US offer the following subjects: electronics, industrial instrumentation, air conditioning technology, heating and refrigeration technology, multimedia technology, etc. In Australia, the main programs that can be found at TAFEs are manufacturing and welding, hydraulics and pneumatics, mechanical engineering and related careers, plastics and rubber manufacturing, plumbing.

After graduation, you can work as a technician (for example, a measurement technician, instrumentation technician, control technician, service technician, etc.). However, the majority of college graduates continue their education at universities in the bachelor's programs[7], because a specialist with a bachelor’s degree has better job prospects for higher positions with good salaries compared to a college graduate.

Higher engineering education

Higher education is provided by universities and colleges. The programs they offer are software engineering, mechanical engineering, automation, robotics, bioengineering, mechatronics, etc. As a rule, internships in the workplace are compulsory during studies.

Higher education, and then a profession can be obtained by doing the following:

  • Getting a bachelor's degree. In some countries you can find specific programs. For example, in the UK there is an integrated MEng in engineeringunified bachelor's and master's program, yet still considered the first cycle of education. Generally, holders of a bachelor's degree are qualified to work or apply for a license. According to a study by Engineering UK, 62% of first-degree graduates were employed full-time (the rest continued their studies, found a part-time job, etc.)[8].
  • Complete a master's program. A master's degree is usually needed to move up the career ladder and study a narrower specialization. Master’s engineer students focus on in-depth development of their technical skills.
  • Continue education in doctoral studies. After obtaining a PhD qualification, an engineer can teach at the university and conduct research activities.

Studying engineering is quite difficult due to the requirement to master many technical subjects at a high level. Going forward, however, good job opportunities are worth the university allnighters.

Engineering specialties admission requirements

University admission criteria vary by country and program. Typically the following is required:

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Engineering programs of the top world universities 2020

NoQS 2020 subject rankingUniversityBachelor’s/yearCountry
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)27,725 USDUSA
2Stanford University 73,964 USDUSA
3University of Cambridge40,478 USDUK
4Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ)1,539 USDSwitzerland
5University of California, Berkeley48,006 USDUSA
6University of Oxford32,035-44,888 USDUK
7Imperial College London40,388 USDUK
8Nanyang Technological University26,713 USDSingapore
9Tsinghua University3,747-31,915 USDaproximatelyChina
10National University of Singapore 27,707 USDSingapore

All data must be verified with universities

What qualities does an engineer need?

Engineering is suitable for students who prefer mathematics and science. Problem-solving skills also will be important. At the same time, engineering implies a creative approach, for example, in the design and operation of various infrastructures, machines, and processes. However, having a lively mind and quick wits is not quite enough. A good engineer must have social and emotional intelligence. Because for specialists in these fields, it is important not only to understand what is happening around them but also to come up with inventions and solutions that will help the people. After all, engineers primarily design for other people, not for themselves or machines. Natural curiosity, logical and analytical mindset, communication skills, attention to detail, teamwork and a constant desire to learn and improve are the essential skills of a successful professional.

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Where do engineers work?

Most engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites, oil and gas exploration, and production sites. There, they supervise direct operations and solve work-related issues on the spot.

Software engineers work in IT companies, aerospace engineers — in civil aviation plants, airlines, or space programs, food processing engineers — in factories (meat processing plants, canneries, food companies, etc.). The places of employment of design engineers depend on the specialization. Thus, furniture designers work in state factories and private firms, marine engineers — in shipbuilding and ship repair enterprises, mechanical engineers — in factories and enterprises that produce machine tools, cars, and household appliances.

The international labor market for engineers is promising. Emerging markets have a high demand for engineers due to rapid industrial and commercial expansion.

Famous engineers

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

It is quite difficult to tie Elon Musk to a certain profession, but his engineering talent is hard to ignore. The South African-born inventor and businessman has had a great influence on humanity, being one of the greatest minds of our time. Among his many projects: Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Tesla, Inc., SolarCity, Hyperloop, OpenAI, and many others. With no formal education in aerospace engineering, Elon Musk created and led the rocket science team at SpaceX. He was even able to bring the company to the level of NASA and other international space associations. At Tesla, Musk personally oversees the development, engineering, and design of all of the company’s products. The same goes for his other projects, where he performs engineering tasks.

Ellen Laurie Ochoa
Ellen Laurie Ochoa

Ellen Laurie Ochoa is an American engineer and former astronaut. She attended the University of San Diego, then earned her MS and PhD from Stanford's Electrical Engineering Department. In 1993, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go into space, serving aboard the space shuttle Discovery on STS-56, a mission to conduct experiments on ozone exposure. She also served on missions STS-96 and STS-110, carrying cargo to the International Space Station. Since 2013, the astronaut has been director of the Johnson Space Center, becoming the center's first Hispanic and second female director. She has also done a lot of research, especially at NASA. From 2018 to 2020, Ochoa served as Deputy Chair of the National Science Board.

Samantha Cristoforetti
Samantha Cristoforetti

Samantha Cristoforetti is an Italian engineer and astronaut. At the age of 18, the native of Milan got into the Space Camp under the exchange program in the United States. She continued to study various types of techniques first in Munich Technical University, then at the National Higher French Institute of Aeronautics and Space in France and at the Mendeleev Russian University of Chemical Technology. Although Cristoforetti is better known as an astronaut for the Italian European Space Agency, she is also a pilot and engineer of the Italian Air Force. Cristoforetti has set records for the longest solo space flight by a woman and for the longest continuous space flight of any European astronaut. In addition, she was the first Italian woman in space and the first person of any nationality to brew an espresso in space.

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