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Engineering PhD Programs: An Overview

By Brendan Conway updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Some, looking to work as engineers, will seek out Bachelor of Science degrees, or even Bachelor of Engineering degrees, if they're offered. These students will come out of undergraduate colleges, and they'll be equipped to start working at the bottom of the pyramid in engineering companies, to work their ways up, inch by inch.

Others will either go back, afterwards, or take the time right off the bat, to earn Master of Science or some equivalent degrees. They'll be prepared for some of the more difficult challenges of engineering, and they'll also look more qualified to prospective employers. Then they may enter the field, and start working their own ways up.

It's a smaller portion of individuals who go all the way and enter into engineering PhD programs. They'll go through the hardest work out of any of the paths listed above, and at the end of their engineering PhD programs, they'll be the proud bearers of PhD degrees in science or engineering or whatever subjects are most appropriate for their particular studies.

Will their work in their engineering PhD programs have been worth it for them? Will all that effort ultimately pay off? That depends on why they wanted the degrees in the first place, and what they're planning on doing with those degrees now that the graduates have them. But one thing is for certain; those graduates will forever be able to take pride simply in having overcome the most difficult of hurdles to achieve these elite degrees.

Some Facts About Engineering PhD Programs

Engineering PhD programs are mixed bags of opportunities and struggles.

  • They're grueling endurance courses in which you will be pushed to the absolute limits of your intellectual and academic capabilities.
  • Engineering PhD programs are opportunities for you to excel and prove yourself while gaining a top-notch education in your field of choice.
  • Engineering PhD programs can provide routes for you to rise to the top of your field, or for you to get positions in which you might teach engineering to students of your own.
  • Engineering PhD programs are not always necessary, if you're not interested in the positions which might require PhDs; in many cases, a master's degree might suffice.

Bottom line: engineering PhD programs are like any other kind of PhD programs, if not even more exaggerated in terms of opportunities compared against potential costs. They feature rigorous academic courses which will put you through the ringer, but which will ultimately shape you into an expert in whatever field of engineering you focus on.

Online engineering PhD program

One good option for flexibility available in the modern Internet age is the online engineering PhD. Thanks to the online courses made available by a number of different institutions, some of the inconveniences of obtaining a PhD have been outright eliminated, although the difficulty of the program in general remains the same.

Different types of engineering PhD programs 

One of the most important concepts to understand with reference to PhD engineering programs is that they are not all uniform. To put it in another way, a PhD engineering program at one university might provide an entirely different kind of education than a PhD engineering program at another university, even though both are allegedly within the same field.

Ultimately, the two different programs might even provide you with different kinds of PhD. This is why it's critical to be sure that the PhD engineering programs you're interested in actually provide you with the kind of education and certification that you want.

PhD engineering programs span a wide variety of different focuses and topics. It's probable, though, that by the time you are ready to attend a PhD engineering program, you'll already be pretty much decided on which kind of program you'll be attending.

At the very least, the list should be much narrowed for you. But if you're an undergraduate, or someone who does have the background necessary for multiple different kinds of engineering PhD programs, here's a good starting list on a number of engineering PhD programs in terms of specializations:

  • Software engineering: PhD in software engineering is primarily for those who want to be designing and modifying software. It's sort of an offshoot of computer science, although the exact relationship between those two disciplines is somewhat in debate. Software engineering will have a critical place in the modern world, though, which makes it a good choice for anyone looking for career opportunities.

  • Systems engineering: Systems engineering has a comprehensive engineering focus. An engineer who focuses on systems engineering will be trained to examine and understand full systems, which means that he or she will likely be trained to take into account a significant set of factors covering elements throughout other disciplines of engineering. A PhD in systems engineering is a good goal to pursue if you've any interest in understanding the overall systems of engineering.

  • Chemical engineering: A student attempting to obtain a PhD in chemical engineering would be studying engineering with regards to chemistry, biology, and the like. A chemical engineer might design waste management plants, water treatment facilities, sanitation plants, and other such facilities.

  • Mechanical engineering: Mechanical engineering is, in many ways, the most classic form of engineering. It's the kind of engineering that comes to mind when you imagine a train engineer, or an automotive engineer. It's the form of engineering that brought us the mechanical engine, as well as robots and other important machines which play a role in our lives on a daily basis. A PhD in mechanical engineering for those who want to take the principles of physics and mathematics and apply them on a regular basis to create machines for specific purposes.

  • Electrical engineering: Electrical engineering is a type of engineering focused upon electrical systems. Electrical engineering is differentiated from electronics engineering, which is focused more upon electronic devices, as opposed to electrical systems and engines. Electrical engineering still covers a broad spectrum of engineering topics, however, and as such, a PhD in electrical engineering is an advisable course of study for any interested student.

  • Civil engineering: Getting a PhD in civil engineering will leave you prepared for large-scale designs and engineering projects. Civil engineers are the engineers who design bridges, roads, major buildings, and the like. Civil engineering is an important part of the modern world, as it is the method by which most of the infrastructure of entire nations is built.

  • Engineering management: Engineering management is not a direct engineering degree, exactly. A PhD in engineering management would instead be the result of a degree program which focuses on teaching the holder the skills necessary to manage an entire team of engineers, to bring them together for some productive purpose.

  • Financial Engineering: Financial engineering is not actually engineering in the same fashion that any of the above disciplines are engineering. Pursuing a PhD in financial engineering would leave an individual prepared to apply some of the principles of engineering to the financial world, in order to create new financial instruments and attempt to affect economies.
Programs Offering PhDs in Engineering
About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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