Aspiring semiconductor engineers study chemical and electrical engineering to learn to deposit chemicals and grow crystals in patterns on microscopic surfaces. They train with electron microscopes to evaluate flaws and review finished products.
Qualifying training programs for the industry are available at the master's and doctoral levels and may take two to five years to complete, respectively. After studying topics such as electromagnetics, semiconductor devices and materials science, program participants might go on to pursue other careers like materials engineer, researcher or professor.
Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering
Students in graduate-level electrical engineering programs with a concentration in microelectronics engineering etch microscopic patterns using plasma and use ion implantation to change various properties of a targeted solid. Master's-level programs electrical engineering often take 18-24 months to complete. Applicants are expected to have earned a bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline or relevant science.
Building upon a student's prerequisite undergraduate background, courses teach the theories and practical applications of integrated circuit manufacturing technologies. Graduate students learn about microchemical reactors, microfluidics, and sensor arrays. Commonly offered courses include:
- Applied mathematics
- Semiconductor devices
- Very-large-scale integration design
Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering
Doctoral scholars in chemical engineering programs use chromatography and spectrometry to analyze chemical compounds and deposit chemicals on semiconductors to grow crystals in specific patterns. Doctoral-level programs allow students to focus studies on a specific area of interest, such as biomimetics, pollution control, intelligent material processing, or using chemical vapors to deposit electronic materials. Doctoral degree programs usually take four to five years to complete. Applicants usually need to have earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or a related science, though master's graduates could decrease the time it takes to earn a doctorate degree.
Doctoral students are able to tailor their courses to prepare for careers working with the kinetics of reactions, process optimization, or molecular simulation. Programs offer courses in the following topics:
- Chemical reactions
- Materials science
- Semiconductor processing
- Transport phenomena
According to the BLS, there were approximately 32,230 chemical engineers employed across various fields in May 2015. BLS reports show that the highest levels of employment in this field were for architectural services, chemical manufacturing, and scientific research and development.
With a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, employment options can be found at research firms, in the manufacturing industry, and in academia. Positions available to doctoral graduates include:
- Chemical engineering professor
- Semiconductor engineer
- Materials science researcher
- Nanotechnology engineer
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) anticipated a -35% decline in manufacturing jobs in the semiconductor industry from 2014-2024. The reduction of available jobs was expected to result from a rise in automated manufacturing. However, the BLS anticipated a 3% growth in computer hardware engineering jobs, though a decline in employment in the manufacturing industry as a whole is a deterrent in job creation.
In May 2015, there were 75,870 computer hardware engineers employed in the U.S., earning a median annual wage of $111,730, according to BLS figures. Materials engineers totaled about 27,040, taking home an annual median salary of $91,310. Semiconductor processors in the U.S. numbered around 24,230 and earned a median salary of $35,390 per year.
Graduates can complete either a master's or doctorate in chemical or electrical engineering to train in semiconductor engineering. Career options include professor, researcher or engineer.