Should I Become an Agricultural Engineer?
Agricultural engineers develop and design new procedures, tools, and systems for agricultural products and environments. Engineers in this field may work to solve environmental issues pertaining to agriculture, or they may specialize in bioprocess technology. They often must travel to worksites to observe whether processes and equipment are working correctly.
These professionals work both indoors and out. Their work can depend on the weather or growing seasons, so sometimes agricultural engineers must work long hours to take advantage of the right conditions.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field(s)||Agricultural or biological engineering|
|Licensure and/or Certification||A license as a professional engineer (P.E.) is required in order to offer services to the public|
|Experience||Some years of practical experience; licensure typically requires at least four years|
|Key Skills||Critical thinking, listening, mathematics, problem solving, proficiency with specialized tools and technology|
|Mean Annual Salary(2015)*||$78,490|
Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine
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Step 1: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree
Employers often require agricultural engineers to have a bachelor's degree from an engineering program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). An undergraduate program in agricultural engineering typically has coursework in calculus, physics with calculus applications, and biology. Agriculture-specific courses may include soil mechanics, environmental microclimatology, ocean and atmospheric dynamics, hydrology, geology, and soil physics.
The curriculum for a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering will generally have a focus on the technology used in agricultural processes. Several topics covered in programs like these include power and machinery systems, storage, ventilation and cooling systems, product processing, spraying techniques, irrigation and drainage management, and agribusiness. In addition to studying these topics, students might be expected to complete a capstone project their senior year, where they work on practical design projects with faculty or cooperating industry members.
Many agricultural engineering programs offer cooperative education or internship programs in the agricultural industry. This can help provide the real-world experience required for state licensure. Internships usually take place during the course of a semester, and the employer usually evaluates students on a regular basis. Examples of internships include working in an agricultural equipment shop, working at a farm, or assisting with irrigation design.
Graduates of an undergraduate program in agricultural engineering might considering pursing a master's degree. A graduate degree in agricultural engineering offers a chance to further specialize within the field. A master's program is likely to focus on research, allowing the student the ability to show an understanding of a particular aspect of agricultural engineering, which may allow for greater employment opportunities within that specialty. A master's degree also might allow an individual to work in more research-related positions in the field of agricultural engineering.
Step 2: Become Licensed
Agricultural engineers are generally required to obtain state licensing. Most states follow the licensing requirements set forth by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The council designed a professional engineer (PE) licensing exam specifically for those specializing in agriculture. Requirements for the NCEES exam include graduation from a degree program accredited by ABET and work experience.
Step 3: Become Certified
A few states and professional organizations offer certification opportunities for engineers. The National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies offers certification in general engineering technology and several engineering specialties, such as geotechnical, land management, and industrial instrumentation. Requirements vary by certification type, but typically include an engineering degree, work experience, and professional endorsements.
Step 4: Gain Experience
Once agricultural engineers have garnered experience they can begin to take on more responsibility on more challenging projects, becoming supervisors and engineering managers. Additionally, they can also transfer their field experience and knowledge into an agricultural equipment sales position.
In summary, becoming an agricultural engineer typically requires earning at least a bachelor's degree and getting licensed. Professional certification and experience could lead to advanced positions in agricultural engineering.