How to Become a Research Engineer: Career Path Guide
Although there are other paths to take, one of the most common ways to become a research engineer is to follow these essential steps:
1. Make sure you have the right personal traits for this profession
2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering
3. Get work experience as a student via internship and co-op opportunities
4. Decide what field of engineering you would like to specialize in
5. Pursue a master’s degree in that area
6. Get a job as a research engineer while you’re a grad student, or after graduation
Below we've expanded on these points to give you a good idea of what you'll need to become a research engineer in the United States or Canada. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as what you’ll be doing, what you could earn, and a list of “Research Engineer” job postings in your area!
What Education Will I Need?
To become an entry-level research engineer, you will typically need a bachelor’s degree relevant to the field in which you will be working. Some employers will require you to have, or give preference to you if you have a master’s degree in that field, or in a related scientific field.
What is a Research Engineer?
Research engineers are responsible for investigating, developing and evaluating new processes, products and equipment for use in various scientific and engineering industries. Their efforts may be in response to a specific problem, or it may be at the direction of a supervisor.
What Does a Research Engineer Do?
The duties of a research engineer can vary based on their level of responsibility, the branch of engineering in which they work, the industry in which they work, and many other factors. In general however, they are responsible for the following:
• Conducting research in order to identify a solution to a specific engineering related problem
• Working on the design of innovative technology within the specified industry
• Building prototypes, products, and systems for testing
• Testing processes and equipment, such as those used in the construction of facilities, using specialized equipment and instruments
• Ensuring that testing results are collected properly
• Evaluating data using recognized statistical processes
• Preparing a report summarizing the testing and findings thereof
• Providing user training and technical support
• Identifying and keeping abreast of novel technical concepts and markets
• Assisting in the publication of papers and applications for patents
What Experience Will I Need?
You will typically (although not always) need to work in lower-level engineering roles before qualifying to work a research engineer.
However, if you have a master's degree in engineering or a relevant field of science, you will likely qualify for research engineer roles out of school, provided you gained some in-field experience while you were a student.
This of course, all depends upon the requirements set out by the employer.
What Licensure/Certification Will I Need?
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. Some employers will also require you to be licensed in order to work as a research engineer.
Most entry-level distribution planning engineer jobs won’t require you to have the Professional Engineer designation. In such cases, you would work under the supervision of a licensed engineer.
How to Become Licensed
Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an accredited engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam, or series of exams. However, these requirements can vary, so please contact your provincial/territorial/state engineering association for full details on becoming licensed.
What Fields Employ Research Engineers?
Research engineering has applications as varied and vast as engineering itself. Some common fields and industries (although not all) in which research engineers work include:
• Commercial & industrial product development
• Military applications
• Industrial design
• Computer hardware, software and systems
• Medical and healthcare technology
• Space technology
• Transportation equipment, components and systems
• Heating and thermodynamic equipment and systems
• Energy, resources and mining (including oil & gas)
Should I Become a Research Engineer?
A career as a research engineer might be an excellent match for you if you have the following characteristics and attributes:
• You enjoy intellectual challenges quite a bit
• You have a natural aptitude in science and mathematics
• You have the desire to make changes in a specific engineering field
• You’re committed to staying up to date with relevant technological innovations
• You're willing to work overtime when required, and possibly travel for work
• You desire a well-paying career that involves working in a laboratory and spending some time in the field
• You can work effectively with a small team for the duration of a project
• You’re willing to commit to the education and work experience needed
• You’re mindful of how the total costs to perform services affects company/client decisions
What is the Salary of a Research Engineer?
The salary you could earn as a research engineer can vary based on many factors, including:
• Your level of education, experience and certification
• The level of responsibility involved in your job
• The size and type of your employer
• The region in which you work
• The industry in which you work
• If you receive any medical, dental, vision, profit sharing, and/or retirement benefits
• Many other factors
Research Engineer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall average salary level of Americans working in the “Engineers, Other - Scientific Research and Development Services” occupational group is $102,810 per year, or $49.43 per hour.
Who Creates Jobs for Research Engineers?
The most common types of employers for research engineers include:
• Engineering and applied science consulting firms
• Universities and colleges
• Research institutions
• The Research & Development (R&D) departments of medium and large organizations
Research Engineer Jobs
Our job board below has "Research Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
What is the Work Environment Like?
Research engineers work in a variety of environments, but often spend a good portion of their time in a laboratory setting, using specialized tools, computer programs, and equipment. They often work full-time, although overtime is sometimes needed to complete work assignments and meet deadlines.
What are Careers Similar to “Research Engineer”?
Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as “Research Engineer”:
What Scholarships Are There for Aspiring Research Engineers?
The “Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career” section below lists fields of study that are relevant to becoming a research engineer. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our “Any Field of Study Scholarships” page.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a research engineer:
• Occupational Employment and Wages: “Electrical and Electronics Engineers.” (May, 2015). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
• Careers: “Research Engineer.” (December 6, 2016). Schlumberger. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
Please Note: Much of the information used for this career guide was sourced from actual “Electrical Systems Engineer” job postings, which due to their brief online nature, are not listed here as references.
Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career
We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to becoming a research engineer. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!