Is a PhD in Engineering Worth It?

May 31, 2020

PhD programs take a lot of time and dedication. The earning potential for engineering PhD holders is often quite above the national average. When you're deciding whether or not to continue your engineering education with a PhD, consider this article and all the career information it includes.

Careers for an Engineering PhD

Position Mean Salary (2019) Career Outlook (2018-2028)
Engineering Professor $112,110 11%
Biomedical Engineer $97,090 4%
Aerospace Engineer $119,220 2%
Materials Engineer $97,890 0%
Nuclear Engineer $120,700 -1%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options for an Engineering PhD

There are many different engineering fields. Whether you want to get involved in space technology or the medical field, there are engineering jobs available. The careers below are just a sampling of the many kinds that you could find with in with a PhD in engineering.

Engineering Professor

Though some colleges take master's degree holders as professors, if you want to work as a tenured professor, your best bet is to earn a PhD in engineering. As a professor, you'll teach students the knowledge you have gained during your studies. You'll spend your time lecturing in classrooms, possibly running labs, and grading homework. While a job in academia can be a fun way to pass on your knowledge, you'll also have the chance to research and write on topics in the engineering field.

Biomedical Engineer

Should you choose to study biomedical engineering, you can find work in the medical sciences designing equipment and medical devices, such as simulated organs. Though a bachelor's degree is sufficient for entering the field, a PhD will allow you to run a research team and take the lead on projects. During your work, you'll train technicians how to use and maintain new equipment. You'll also write technical reports and research papers.

Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineering is one of those careers that puts the safety of others in your hands. As an aerospace engineer, you'll work to design and test airplanes, aircrafts, and aerospace machines. You may choose to focus your research on an area of aerospace, such as thermodynamics, acoustics, aerodynamics, or propulsion. On top of this, you may choose to focus on either aeronautical engineering, which involves working with airplanes, or astronautical engineering, involving spacecrafts and satellites. The research aspect of the PhD can provide the skills needed to work with prestigious and advanced research programs.

Materials Engineer

Materials engineers work with other engineers to gauge the use and effectiveness of materials used in building machines and products. You may focus your career in one material type, such as ceramics or plastics. However, you may also evaluate new uses for these materials, investigate the use of new material types, and examine how the materials hold up over time. You could also write budgets and reports for other engineers and project leaders to help them assess what materials will work best. A PhD can allow you to become licensed as a professional engineer and to learn the researching and writing skills you'll need for this career path.

Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers work in the nuclear energy field. In this career, you'll design and test nuclear equipment, such as radiation shields. You'll maintain the nuclear power plant equipment. You will also test to be sure that safety regulations and laws are being upheld and equipment is working properly. Along with this, you'll write up procedures for nuclear waste disposal and plant shutdown scenarios. Many companies look for those with master's degrees and PhDs for entry-level positions, so a PhD in engineering would be very beneficial for anyone considering this field.

Notes for Earning a PhD in Engineering

  • In general, earning a PhD will often lead to better average salaries. According to in 2020, those who earned a master's degree in engineering earned about $95,000. In the same year, those who earned an engineering PhD earned $130,000. Along with a higher salary, there are some other things you may want to look at when considering continuing your education.
  • PhD engineering programs can typically take 4-7 years to complete. A master's degree can be completed in one and a half to two years of full time study.
  • It typically costs less per credit for a graduate degree than an undergraduate. For the sake of comparison, let's compare Villanova University's tuition costs. For a PhD in engineering, the cost per credit is $1,475. For an undergraduate degree, it is $3,152 per credit. Additionally, PhD students may receive grants or income from teaching responsibilities within their program. However, due to the length of time it can take to earn a degree, annual costs can add up.
  • According to U.S. News and World Report, master's programs are often observed or funded by the government and businesses. This means there is a specific type of work that needs to be focused on. However, a PhD program allows you the chance to broaden your research and focus on a unique area.
  • Scholarships are often granted to those studying the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, or math. There are often engineering-specific scholarships and scholarships given to those who are minorities or women studying engineering.

PhDs in engineering can look at a number of areas that an undergraduate may not allow for. You can join a number of advanced academia and research positions with a PhD, and you can consider work in areas like materials engineering and nuclear engineering. However, there may be significant costs and time commitment associated with this degree path.

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