If you've ever considered a career in engineering, you probably thrive on problem solving. That's good, because one of the first problems you'll need to tackle as you explore this broad field is figuring out what type of engineer you'd like to be.
You may be aware of the most common engineering subspecialties, like civil engineering (the design of roads, bridges, buildings and the like), computer engineering (the design of computer hardware), and electrical and electronic engineering (the design of electrical and electronic systems, including computer systems and software). But did you know that there are literally hundreds of different engineering job titles in more than a dozen categories?
Try a few engineering roles on for size:
Aerospace engineers: Develop airplanes, spacecraft, missiles, and other vehicles and machines that fly here in Earth's atmosphere or in outer space. Aerospace engineers who specialize in aircraft are called aeronautical engineers, while those who focus on spacecraft are called astronautical engineers.
Agricultural engineers and biological engineers: Combine their expertise in engineering technologies and biological sciences to develop, for example, agricultural machinery and structures. They also work to solve related environmental problems, such as soil erosion, and create new ways to use agricultural byproducts and natural resources.
Biomedical engineers: Use their knowledge of engineering, medicine and biology to find creative solutions to medical and health-related problems. Some biomedical engineers, for instance, design devices for medical procedures, while others develop artificial organs or artificial joint replacements.
Chemical engineers: Combine engineering and chemistry principles to study the production and uses of chemicals in a wide range of practical applications. For example, it is often a chemical engineer who works on improving food-processing techniques or developing better fertilizers.
Environmental engineers: Use their backgrounds in engineering, biology and chemistry to solve problems that have an environmental element. They can be involved in everything from controlling water and air pollution to creating effective recycling programs to conducting studies on hazardous-waste management.
Industrial engineers: Typically work in manufacturing facilities, making sure that organizations produce their products as efficiently, cost effectively and safely as possible. Some industrial engineers are involved in designing production processes and factory-floor layout schemes. Others address work site or product safety and health issues so that both workers and the consuming public are protected.
Marine engineers and ocean engineers: Design, build and maintain ships, aircraft carriers, submarines, tankers, tugboats and other large waterborne vehicles. A marine engineer, for example, might select and maintain the machinery on a large ship, while an ocean engineer may be involved in designing and operating an oil rig that's been built out at sea.
Materials engineers: Develop the materials used to create various products. They work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors and composites to develop everything from clothes and vinyl siding to dinnerware and artificial limbs.
Mechanical engineers: Design tools, engines, electrical generators, internal combustion engines, elevators -- in short, any device that is mechanical in nature.
Mining engineers: Focus on locating, extracting and processing coal, metals and minerals so that those materials can be used by manufacturers and utility companies. For example, a mining engineer may develop a site-specific approach to extracting a mineral deposit efficiently and safely.
Nuclear engineers: Determine the processes, instruments and systems necessary to tap into nuclear energy and radiation. Some nuclear engineers might design nuclear plants, for instance, while others may develop nuclear power sources for spacecraft or innovative diagnostic procedures for physicians.
Petroleum engineers: Oversee searches around the world for new sources of oil and natural gas. They also figure out how those natural resources will be extracted and design the equipment and tools necessary to do so.
As Geraldine Garner writes in Careers in Engineering, “The different types of engineering fields are as numerous and diverse as the skill and knowledge base of engineering professionals.”
So give yourself the chance to explore the possibilities. Perhaps you'll one day have designs on a career in the diverse world of engineering.