Study Mechanical Engineering: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a mechanical engineering degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
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Mechanical Engineering: Graduate Degrees at a Glance

Graduate mechanical engineering degree programs provide opportunities for students to engage in advanced research and professional collaboration. These programs are designed for students who desire higher training in the various areas of mechanical engineering, such as automatic control systems, biomechanics, fluid mechanics, noise control, robotics, structural mechanics, theoretical fluid dynamics, and thermal processes. Upon graduation, individuals may work in a variety of specialties, laboratories, or industries.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals with strong mathematical skills who desire to apply their knowledge to develop products, machines, systems, and other processes Those seeking to teach at the university level, conduct research, or lead project developments in mechanical engineering
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Mechanical engineer ($84,000)*
- Aerospace engineer ($104,000)*
-Engineering post-secondary teacher ($97,000)*
Time to Completion Approximately 1 year full-time 4-5 years after the bachelor's
Common Graduation Requirements - Laboratory projects
- Master's thesis
- Graduate Seminars
- Specialty study or research area
-PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or engineering specialty Master's degree in mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, or closely related engineering specialty
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Mechanical Engineering

Master's degree programs in engineering aim to prepare students for success and proficiency as engineers. These graduate programs provide students with in-depth knowledge of math and physical science, a broad foundation of mechanical engineering techniques and principles, and the methods needed to apply the skills learned in their studies in practical situations. Mechanical engineering programs also emphasize the importance of strong interpersonal skills, effective communication skills, leadership qualities, and the ability to work in teams.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • The broad nature of mechanical engineering provides a wide range of job opportunities for graduates*
  • Students in mechanical engineering programs learn skills that can be applied to all professions**
  • Mechanical engineers play a pivotal role towards the advancement of human society***

Cons:

  • Usually only a bachelor's degree is required for many engineering positions****
  • Individuals may have to take more courses to stay competitive in the job market*****
  • Licensing exams are required for mechanical engineers to offer their services to the public****

Sources: *North Carolina State University, **Columbia University, ***University of Illinois, ****U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *****Purdue University

Common Coursework and Requirements

The curriculum of master's degree programs in mechanical engineering include core courses in mechanical engineering, electives in science and engineering, laboratory work, and math courses. Some colleges require a thesis, while others allow for an optional numerical, experimental, or analytical research-based thesis that counts towards required course credits hours. Laboratory work includes experiments in instrumentation, measurement, engineering, and physical phenomena. Coursework covers topics like thermodynamics, heat transfer, physics, computer graphics and design, machine design, energy, fluids, and control systems.

Online Degree Options

Graduate mechanical engineering distance learning programs are designed for engineers interested in enhancing their job performance, those seeking to advance their careers, or professional engineers focused on acquiring new skills. Online degree courses in engineering are often taught by faculty of the same caliber as those who teach traditional on-campus courses. These online courses focus on providing students with the basis to develop innovative products, solutions, and systems for various industries.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

To get ahead with your degree, consider choosing an area of specialization with relevance to today's issues. For example, some schools allow students to concentrate in energy systems. Courses in this concentration discuss different types of energy sources and sustainable design. The prevalence of renewable energy discussions in society today makes this concentration relevant. Expertise in a relevant area may make you more attractive to employers.

PhD in Mechanical Engineering

The curriculum of a PhD program in mechanical engineering emphasizes creativity, design, effective communication, and entrepreneurship. Numerical and research experiences are integral components of many of these programs. Graduates of these programs can work in computer engineering, bioengineering, manufacturing, systems engineering, or software development.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Promotion into administrative positions typically requires a PhD*
  • Graduate programs provide various opportunities for students to collaborate with professionals and engage in research**
  • Prepares students to work in administrative or leadership positions**

Cons:

  • You may be competing for jobs against candidates with less education and more work experience*
  • Lengthy period of study required to complete the program
  • Doctoral programs are not ABET-accredited***

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ***Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology

Common Coursework and Requirements

Students in doctoral mechanical engineering programs are expected to achieve expertise in a specialty area of the broad field of mechanical engineering and to obtain a broad understanding of other engineering and science disciplines, identify problems, formulate solutions, conduct independent and interdisciplinary research, and produce results that promote fundamental understanding of a given topic. Students must be able to communicate research findings through presentations and journal publications. During their studies, students may choose a research specialty from areas such as biomechanics, robotics, materials, nanotechnology, and computational science and engineering.

Online Degree Options

PhD programs in mechanical engineering are available online. Though coursework in online programs may be completed entirely over the Internet, some colleges require students to attend campus to for certain portions of their studies. For instance, reports, projects, and defense of dissertations are components that may require students to attend campus.

Stand Out with this Degree

Graduates interested in standing out with their PhD in mechanical engineering degree may consider joining a professional organization, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The ASME offers a variety of benefits and opportunities to students, such as professional collaboration, career enhancement, and skills development. Joining professional organizations is also beneficial because members can enroll in continuing education courses, receive training, learn about engineering codes and standards, and attend conferences.

Additionally, you might consider completing a specialization in a computer-related field. Many mechanical engineers work for computer software and hardware companies after graduation. Recognizing this, several schools provide state-of-the art computation facilities for students to use during their research. Completing several labs or research projects that have a computer focus can make you more attractive to employers interested in developing new hardware or software.

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