Degrees in materials science and engineering are offered at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Programs combine academic research and knowledge with hands-on laboratory experimentation to teach students how to evaluate synthetic materials from a chemical, compositional and structural point of view. Materials are analyzed according to their usefulness, practicality and function. In addition to traditional lectures and seminars, doctoral programs require the completion of a dissertation project. Graduates of the above programs may pursue career opportunities in the areas of product manufacturing and automotive or aerospace engineering design.
For admission to bachelor's degree programs, students should have their high school diploma and high ACT or SAT scores. A bachelor's degree in materials science or a related field and standardized test scores are required for admission into a master's degree program. For doctoral programs, students must possess a bachelor's or master's degree in materials science or a related field and standardized test scores.
Bachelor of Science in Materials Science
A Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering program is typically offered through a school's engineering department. In this program, students learn about man-made, manufactured materials from a functional, chemical, structural and compositional and design standpoint. Students develop critical-thinking and analytical skills as they work to come up with better and more efficient materials, from car parts to computer chips.
Colleges and universities require students to complete general educational requirements in the social and natural sciences, humanities and the arts as well as core introductory and advanced courses specifically designed for the materials science major. Students engage in directed laboratory research and testing as well as attend lecture courses in the following subjects:
- Basics of materials characterization, metallurgy and materials science
- Electricity and magnetism
- Properties of ceramics and ceramic engineering
- Polymers and materials engineering
- Principles of bonding in materials science and engineering
Master of Science in Materials Science
These programs continue to build upon fundamental materials science and engineering principles while introducing advanced theories and topics. Programs focus on the practical application of learned theories and skills in a simulated or real laboratory research or professional environment. A master's degree program is geared for recent graduates of an undergraduate degree program or working professionals looking for advanced education and potential career advancement.
The curriculum consists primarily of materials science and engineering courses and typically takes two years to complete. Students engage in active laboratory design research and testing. Additionally, students take courses covering the following essential topics:
- Research and experimental methods in materials science and engineering
- Electronic and optical materials
- Fluid mechanics
- Kinetic energy in materials science
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Doctor of Philosophy in Materials Science
A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Materials Science degree program allows students the opportunity for advanced, self-directed research under the guidance of faculty and administrative advisors. Students divide their time between performing practical research studies, conducting academic research for the writing of their dissertations and attending advanced seminars. Programs introduce students to advanced topics related to the construction, composition and design of synthetic materials. Students also master problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities.
Doctoral candidates spend most of their time engaged in academic and laboratory research to develop their dissertations. In addition, students take courses covering essential topics such as:
- Diffraction and crystallography in materials
- Diffusion and rate processes
- Phase transformation in materials science and engineering
- Structure of materials
- Design in materials science and engineering
Popular Career Options
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs are equipped to apply for internships or entry-level employment in a variety of different jobs in the field of engineering and engineering research. Some popular career fields include:
- Automotive engineering and design
- Electronic materials and design
- Aerospace engineering and design
- Product manufacturing
A doctoral degree often provides the widest range of employment opportunities in a variety of fields, from engineering to education. Some popular careers include:
- Department head
- Engineering research supervisor
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), materials scientists will have an estimated 3% job growth for the decade 2014-2024. The BLS reported in May 2015 that these scientists earned a median wage of $91,000 yearly.
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs can continue their studies of materials science and engineering at the graduate level. Although not necessary for employment, a graduate degree may be a beneficial professional asset for those aspiring to managerial or supervisory positions. A graduate degree often leads to greater employment opportunities and a potentially higher starting salary.
Graduates of master's degree programs seeking further education can apply to a doctoral degree program in materials science and engineering. Although not absolutely essential for employment in many research, manufacturing and development jobs, a Ph.D. is typically a necessary requirement for teaching and research at the college or university level. A doctoral degree program is considered the terminal degree track in this field of study.
Materials science may be a good education and career path for students with a knack for math and science, as it sets them up for jobs as professors, engineers, designers and researchers, depending on whether they pursue a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree.