Engineering is a discipline that applies mathematics, science, logic, and practical reasoning to address real-world challenges. Engineers utilize scientific theories to develop solutions that are safer, faster, more effective, and more efficient. The field encompasses a variety of specialized disciplines such as aerospace, biomedical, computer and software engineering, electrical, and environmental engineering.
Given the extent of information and resources engineers deal with, studies in the field can delve deep into any of these fields. A PhD can be a great way to further your understanding of your chosen discipline while gaining research experience, expanding your career opportunities, and gaining a more authoritative reputation among your peers.
If you have earned your bachelor’s degree in engineering and your master’s degree in engineering, and you’re passionate about keeping up with the latest engineering theories, this article may be of interest to you. We will explore what a Ph.D. program involves, the advantages of obtaining a doctoral degree, and the career opportunities available to those with advanced degrees.
Why Earn a PhD in Engineering?
There are many good reasons to pursue a PhD in engineering. You will have access to opportunities for leadership roles in academia and industry. You will have the expertise and authority to head research programs, lead teams of researchers, and mentor fellow engineers. Having a PhD in engineering will make you eligible for tenure-track positions, which will give you the chance to impact your field. You will find yourself in a position of authority among those who were once your professional equals.
During the program, you will have chances to engage in original research and develop innovative technologies whose impact will be felt far beyond your field. You will have a chance to impact the world, which will make your work much more fulfilling.
These experiences will also help you develop key skills, like the latest research methodologies, that will make you valuable to employers. Doctorate studies will take you deeper into your field of engineering, helping you develop a robust and specialized knowledge set. You will gain experience in project management, leadership, and teamwork, soft skills that will further increase your employment value.
Though a demanding experience, a PhD in engineering will help you grow as a person. Your knowledge of your field will grow and your intellectual capabilities will sharpen. You’ll soon notice the effects in other parts of your life as your thinking becomes more analytical and meticulous.
Engaging in the latest research with the brightest minds of your profession will give you the invaluable chance to expand your professional network. That connection you make during your studies could be very useful when a project you lead down the road encounters a challenging problem.
The world of academia will bring some crossover benefits into your professional life as well. The wealth of research funding and grants available to a PhD student can be extensive. Being the one to bring in extra funding to a project will add to your value at your company.
Doctoral studies will also give you access to specialized roles previously out of your reach. In academia, you will be eligible to become a professor or researcher at prestigious universities. In industry, you will be considered for roles as a research scientist, specialist, consultant, manager, and many more.
Reasons to Pursue a PhD Online
Earning your engineering PhD online can give you some benefits. Online studies offer a more flexible schedule, giving you the ability to study around your work schedule. Studying from home can save time by eliminating the need to commute to campus.
The virtual labs and simulation tools used in online courses can be just as effective as traditional lab settings. These tools will give you the chance to conduct experiments remotely and gain practical experience.
The wide availability of online programs means you may study with students from around the world. This can give you the chance to network beyond geographical borders and enhance your studies with novel engineering practices and international perspectives.
How Much Does a PhD in Engineering Cost?
A PhD in engineering and all the benefits it brings is a sizable financial investment. Tuition costs for doctoral programs are higher than those for bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The average tuition for a PhD is around $150,000 for the full 4-6 year commitment. The exact price varies depending on in-state and out-of-state rates. However, most online programs offer a lower in-state tuition rate to all students.
The expenses do not stop at tuition payments, however, PhD students are also responsible for buying their own research materials, laboratory equipment, and conference attendance. These costs can vary depending on the type of research you will do, the equipment needed, and the amount of travel needed for research and conferences. Rough estimates, however, put these costs between a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.
PhD in Engineering Curriculum
The typical engineering PhD program will require students to complete a core set of courses and seminars. These will include the study of research methods, advanced mathematics, and engineering theory. A more detailed list of common core classes is given below:
- Biomechanical Engineering
- Energy Science and Technology
- Chemical Kinetics and Reaction
- Cell and Molecular Biology for Engineers
- Physiology for Bioengineers
- Acquisition and Analysis of Data
- Mathematical Optimization
- Mechanical Properties & Structures
Students pursuing a PhD in engineering will be expected to conduct original research into their chosen field of study. In doing this, they will build expertise in various research methodologies, including experimental design, data analysis, and scientific writing.
PhD programs will often require students to pass qualifying exams as part of their studies. This shows the student’s readiness to conduct independent research. These exams typically cover topics like engineering theory, research methods, and specialized areas of study.
Toward the end of the program, doctoral students will need to complete a dissertation. This is an extensive research project expected to contribute new information and methods to their field of study. The dissertation needs to show the student’s ability to carry out effective independent research and provide meaningful impact to the field.
Admission Requirements for PhD in Engineering Programs
To get admitted to a PhD in engineering program, you will first need to meet several prerequisites. Most institutions require students to have a master’s degree in an engineering or a relevant field of study like physics or chemistry. Though master’s degrees are widely required, some schools may accept students with an appropriate bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
You will also need to submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). For international students, many schools will need you to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and submit scores as proof of English language proficiency.
Most universities will require students to submit letters of recommendation. These letters from professors you have learned under or professionals you have worked with will attest to your academic abilities and potential for impactful research.
Some institutions may require students to submit a research proposal that outlines their intended area of study and research interests. Work samples like research papers or projects may also be required. This assesses the applicant’s research capabilities and overall fit for the program.
Accreditation for PhD in Engineering Programs
When choosing a PhD program, it is crucial to ensure the institution is accredited. Accreditation indicates that the program meets specific standards and adequately prepares students for STEM jobs. For engineering programs in the US, the primary accrediting body is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). You can find out if a program is ABET accredited by checking the program’s accreditation status through ABET or by checking the university’s website.
Career Options for People With PhDs in Engineering
A PhD in engineering opens up numerous career options. In academia, you can become a professor or research scientist at universities or research institutions. In industry, you can work as an engineering manager overseeing projects and teams. Other roles include Chief Technical Officer (CTO), consultant, policymaker, and more. The expertise and credibility gained through a PhD make you sought after in various fields.
PhD in Engineering Salary and Job Outlook
Earning a PhD in engineering can lead to higher income. While exact salaries vary depending on factors like specialization, location, and experience, the median annual wage for all engineering fields was $83,700 in May 2022, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With a PhD and years of experience, your earning potential increases.
With a PhD, you have access to a wide range of opportunities in academia, consulting, and industry management. Factors such as the field of engineering, job title, and years of experience influence salary and career advancement prospects. The job outlook for engineering professionals is positive. For example, jobs for industrial engineers are projected to grow 12% from 2022 to 2032, according to the BLS; jobs for civil engineers are expected to expand 5% over the same period.
Scholarships and Financial Aid for PhD in Engineering
Given the high cost of earning a PhD in engineering, various financial aid opportunities exist. Research fellowships, assistantships, grants, and scholarships can help cover tuition, fees, and living expenses. Fellowships and scholarships are often merit-based, while grants may be based on merit or financial need. Deadlines and application guidelines vary, so it is essential to research and apply for all available options.
PhD in Engineering FAQs
How Much Can You Earn With a PhD in Engineering?
Salaries for PhD in engineering degree holders vary widely. Salary.com estimates an average base salary of $95,889 (August 2023), but earnings vary by specialization, employer, experience, and many other factors. For example, petroleum engineers in the top earnings tier have salaries exceeding $200,000, according to the BLS.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a PhD in Engineering?
A PhD in engineering typically takes five to seven years to complete. Fast-track options may shorten this timeframe to three to five years.
Is Getting a PhD in Engineering Worth it?
The worth of earning a PhD in engineering depends on your career goals, interests, and financial situation. While it does not guarantee higher wages, a PhD offers credibility, expertise, and opportunities for research, teaching, and consulting. Non-monetary benefits include skill development in areas like independence, collaboration, leadership, and critical thinking.
Can I Earn a PhD in Engineering Entirely Online?
Yes, you can earn a PhD in engineering completely online. Pros of this option include time and location flexibility, convenience, and working through your studies. Cons include the lack of physical interaction with professors and classmates, limited access to research facilities, and the need for self-motivation and time management.
Examples of accredited, online engineering PhD programs include::
- Michigan Technological University
- Texas Tech University
- Boston University
- Colorado State University
- Columbia University in the City of New York
- Pennsylvania State University
- Texas A&M University
- The University of Tennessee
What Careers Can an Individual With a PhD in Engineering Get?
After earning your PhD in engineering, many professional doors will open for you. Below is a list of jobs available to PhD holders:
- Academia: professor and research scientist
- Industry specific: chemical engineer, petroleum engineer, aerospace engineer, computer software engineer, and equipment engineer
Reasons for pursuing a PhD in engineering vary. The benefits include broader job opportunities, deeper industry specialization, and personal growth. The obstacles can be high, though. Programs are costly, require a long time commitment, and do not guarantee a higher salary after completion. Whether you pursue this path is a personal choice that depends on your circumstances.
If you decide to earn your PhD, though, it is important to choose an institution accredited by ABET or a similar body, prepare the application materials carefully, and take advantage of any financial aid opportunity available to you.