How to Become a Materials Engineer
Materials engineers plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with others as necessary.
Materials engineers typically have a bachelor’s degree in materials science or engineering or a related field. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, cooperative engineering programs, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable as well.
Students interested in studying materials engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.
Entry-level jobs as a materials engineer require a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs typically last 4 years and include classroom and laboratory work focusing on engineering principles. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while earning college credits.
Some colleges and universities offer a 5-year program leading to both a bachelor’s and master's degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some colleges and universities or to do research and development. Some 5- or 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study with practical work, allowing students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.
Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have graduated from an accredited program. A degree from an ABET-accredited program is usually necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.
Communication skills. In supervising technicians, technologists, and other engineers, materials engineers must be able to state concepts and directions clearly. When speaking with managers at high-level meetings, these engineers also must be able to communicate engineering concepts to people who do not have an engineering background.
Math skills. Materials engineers use the principals of calculus and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Operations analysis. Materials engineers often work on projects related to other fields of engineering. They must be able to determine how materials will be used in a wide of conditions and how the materials must be structured to withstand the requirements of those conditions.
Problem-solving skills. Materials engineers must understand the relationship between the structure of materials and their properties and means of processing, and how these factors affect the product. They must also figure out why a product failed, design a solution, and then conduct tests to make sure the product does not fail again. This involves being able to identify root causes when many factors could be at fault.
Teamwork. Materials engineers must be able to work with scientists and engineers from other backgrounds. They must be able to present and defend a perspective while also accepting other specialists’ input and feedback.
Writing skills. Materials engineers must write plans and reports clearly so that people without a materials engineering background understand the concepts.
Some states license materials engineers; requirements vary by state. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). Licensure generally has the following requirements:
- A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken after graduation from college. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.
Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own requirements.
Certification in the field of metallography is available through the Materials Information Society, ASM International. This certification is designed to supplement college courses in materials engineering or materials science.
Additional graduate work in fields directly related to metallurgy and materials’ properties, such as corrosion or failure analysis, is available through ASM International.
Beginning materials engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects where they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, materials engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Many become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work. An engineering background is useful in sales because it enables sales engineers to discuss a product's technical aspects and assist in product planning, installation, and use. For more information, see the profile on sales engineers.