Students may explore nuclear engineering fundamentals and advanced nuclear reactor theories as well as atomic physics. Those enrolled in a bachelor's degree program in nuclear engineering might find summer internships or laboratory research opportunities through their schools' nuclear engineering departments. Extensive research is also required of graduate students. Master's degree program enrollees must complete research projects related to advanced nuclear engineering while doctoral students must prepare a dissertation. Programs vary in length according to the program level.
Applicants to a bachelor's program need a high school diploma. Aspiring master's students need a bachelor's degree, and applicants for the doctoral program need a master's degree.
Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering
A Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering is the most popular degree track for students interested in nuclear reactor engineering. Programs look at engineering, and particularly nuclear engineering, from a scientific, mathematical, conceptual and functional point of view. Programs focus on contemporary theories and practices in nuclear power and nuclear engineering. The goal of a bachelor's degree program is to prepare students for employment or graduate studies, typically in engineering or science.
The curriculum is comprised of general educational requirements in the arts, humanities and sciences, as well as introductory and advanced courses in the nuclear engineering major. Course topics include:
- Introduction to nuclear engineering
- Advanced calculus
- Fundamentals of nuclear energy
- Nuclear reactor design theory
- Radiation detection and safety
- Fusion engineering
Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering
A Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering teaches students about the scientific and mathematical principles involved in nuclear power, nuclear reactor design and nuclear power engineering. Programs develop students' critical thinking and analytical reasoning abilities.
Graduate programs give students the chance to focus their studies exclusively in one area of nuclear engineering. Students study advanced topics in nuclear engineering, such as:
- Atomic and nuclear physics
- Materials used in nuclear engineering
- Energy systems and resources in nuclear engineering
- Radiation control and safety
- Statistical data and nuclear energy
- Advanced nuclear reactor theory
Doctor of Philosophy in Nuclear Engineering
A Doctor of Philosophy in Nuclear Engineering is considered the terminal degree in this particular field of study. Under the guidance of faculty and advisers, students engage in independent research studies that are often tailored to individual interests. Students look at how nuclear energy is created, harnessed and stored, as well as the chemical and biological impacts of nuclear energy and nuclear reactors.
Doctoral candidates spend the majority of their time devoted to independent research projects. Students continue academic exploration of advanced topics in nuclear engineering, such as:
- Irradiation effects in materials
- Nuclear power systems and corrosion
- Nuclear fuel cycle
- Nuclear reactors and thermal energy
- Nuclear reactor safety
- Subterranean nuclear technology
Popular Career Options
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs are poised to seek internships or entry-level employment, often gravitating towards opportunities in engineering design and research. Some popular job opportunities are:
- Research assistant
- Technical writer
- Laboratory assistant
Graduates of doctoral programs are often employed in the nuclear engineering industry in various fields, such as reactor design, nuclear power research or academia. Some popular career options are:
- Technical writer
- Reactor designer
- Independent researcher
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
A report by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) stated that 16,800 nuclear engineers were employed nationally in 2014 and projected a 4% decrease in employment from 2014-2024. As of May 2015, the median yearly salary for nuclear engineers was $102,950.
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs can continue studying nuclear engineering at the master's degree level. Typically, a master's degree offers increased employment opportunities and the potential for a higher starting salary.
Students of master's degree programs can continue their education at the doctoral degree level. Although a doctoral degree is not required for some positions, those interested in teaching at the college or university level or conducting independent research often find that a doctorate is a valuable asset.
Nuclear engineering programs are available at the bachelor's and master's degree levels for students interested in working as nuclear engineers. Individuals looking for research or teaching positions in this field might consider pursuing a doctoral degree.