How to Become a Materials Engineer
Are you interested in having a well-paying career? Do you want to spend your days applying your strong math and analytical skills? Are you curious about everyday materials, from what’s used in sports equipment to those used in micro-electronics?
If so, a career as a materials engineer is worth considering. Here are some quick highlights of working in this field:
• Excellent level of pay
• Plenty of room for career advancement, including the possibility of self-employment
• The chance to apply technical engineering and project management skills
• You could work with materials ranging from metals to cutting edge polymers
• Your work would mainly be out of an office or laboratory
If you want to know more about the ins and outs of this career, then read on; we’ll fill you in on the details, including an overview of what materials engineers do, how much they can earn, and what you’ll need to become one!
Education Needed to Become a Materials Engineer
The basic educational requirement for working as a materials engineer is a four-year bachelor's degree in materials, metallurgical, ceramic or chemical engineering (or a related engineering discipline) from an accredited school.
Some employers however, may require that you have a master’s or doctoral degree in one of these areas, with a major in a field related to their specialized area of operations, if applicable. This is particularly applicable to research and teaching positions.
Licensure & Certification Needed
You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (“PE” - United States; “P.Eng.” - Canada) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise other engineers and engineering technicians.
You will also need to have the PE/P.Eng. designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly.
If you are not licensed, you may still work on engineering projects under the supervision of a licensed engineer. This is good news, because you will need that experience to become licensed.
How to Become Licensed: Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam. However, these requirements can vary, so please contact your provincial/territorial/state engineering association for full details on becoming licensed.
Materials Engineer: General Job Description
As a material engineer, you would be responsible for evaluating materials and developing machinery and processes to manufacture materials for use in products that must meet specialized design or performance specifications.
You would also be responsible for developing new uses for existing fabricated, composite or naturally occurring materials. The majority of materials engineers specialize in a specific material such as metals and steel or ceramics.
Depending on your area of specialty, you would use your expertise to solve problems in any number of possible engineering fields, which could include mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil, nuclear or aerospace engineering.
You could also potentially work with many different materials, including:
• Industrial minerals
General Job Duties
The specific job duties you would perform can vary quite a bit from one job to the next. However, it’s likely you would be responsible for some, or all, of the following tasks:
• Studying materials at the atomic level
• Using sophisticated computer processes to duplicate the traits of materials and their mechanisms
• Planning and evaluating new projects, consulting with other engineers and managers if necessary
• Preparing proposals and budgets, analyzing labor costs, writing reports, and performing other managerial tasks
• Supervising the work of technologists, technicians, and other engineers and scientists
• Designing and directing the testing of processing procedures
• Monitoring how materials perform and evaluate how they deteriorate
• Determining causes of product failure, and developing ways of overcoming such failure
• Evaluating technical specifications and economic factors relating to the design objectives of processes or products
• Conducting training sessions for customers on new material products, applications or manufacturing methods
• Supervising testing of new materials in order to ensure their quality
• Determining appropriate methods for fabricating and joining materials
Personal Characteristics Needed
Having some of the following characteristics will help ensure that you find fulfillment in a career as a materials engineer:
• A natural sense of scientific curiosity
• Excellent abilities in math and science
• The ability to work independently or in a team environment
• Enjoy being innovative
• Enjoy doing work that requires precision
• An interest in being seen as an expert in their field
• Interest in a well-paying and relatively stable career
• The ability to analyze large amounts of data
• The ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings
• The ability to think logically and solve problems
Who Creates Jobs for Materials Engineers?
The expertise of materials engineers is utilized by a wide variety of industries. Different types of employers that typically hire materials engineers include:
• Inspection firms
• Materials testing laboratories
• Automotive manufacturers, including parts manufacturers
• Aircraft part, machinery and electrical equipment manufacturers
• Microelectronics and computer hardware manufacturers
• Producers of primary metals
• Large fabricators of metals
• Government, university and industrial research and teaching establishments
• Engineering consulting firms specializing in corrosion, pipeline integrity and failure analysis
• Petroleum production and refining industries (for example, oil sands companies)
• Pipe production and installation industries
• Coal and chemical industries
• Mineral processing plants
• Telecommunications companies
• Sports equipment manufacturers
• Biomedical engineering firms
Materials Engineer Job Opportunities
Materials Engineer Jobs - Canada
Materials Engineer Jobs - United States
Factors Affecting Salary
The salary level you could earn as a materials engineer can vary, typically depending on the following factors:
• Your level of education
• Your level of experience
• The specific responsibilities of your job
• The size and type of your employer
• The region in which you work
• Many other factors
Salary Figures for Materials Engineers
Materials Engineer Salary Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (more recent data is not available), Albertans in the Metallurgical and Materials Engineers occupational group earn on average from $44.03 to $64.35 an hour, with an overall average wage of $52.46 per hour.
Materials Engineer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Materials Engineers occupational group is $91,310 per year (2015 figures).
Career Advancement Opportunities
As a materials engineer first entering the field, you will likely start as a junior engineer, and you would train under the supervision of a Professional Engineer in order to develop your technical knowledge skills.
In order to advance your career, you would need to obtain the Professional Engineering (PE or P.Eng.) license, because only licensed engineers can assume responsibilities for public projects.
Once you’ve gained licensure, you may qualify for advancement to more senior roles.
Once you acquire even more experience and prove your competence, you may qualify for advancement to senior technical positions, or even managerial positions, such as Head Engineer, or Project Manager.
If you have enough experience, you might choose establish your own consultancy or firm, company. If you have a doctoral (Ph.D.) degree, you may teach at a university, or conduct research.
You may also choose to apply the knowledge you’ve gained into different kinds of roles. For example, you may choose to pursue a career in sales, as a Technical Sales Engineer.
Careers Similar to Materials Engineer
Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Materials Engineer, as they may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities.
Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a materials engineer:
• National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2011: “Metallurgical and Materials Engineers.” (n.d.). Statistics Canada. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
• Occupational Profile: “Materials Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Materials Engineers.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
• Job Profile: “Materials Engineer.” (n.d.). Prospects. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
Relevant Areas of Study in Our System
We have career guides written for over 60 subjects/majors, some of which are applicable to becoming a materials engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with a degree in one of these fields!