Becoming a Cooling Scientist: Salary Information & Job Description

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Learn about a cooling scientist's job description, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a cooling science career.
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Pros and Cons of a Cooling Science Career

Professionals in cooling science careers design, test and troubleshoot heating and cooling systems. Check out the pros and cons to see if becoming a cooling scientist is the right career for you.

Pros of Becoming a Cooling Scientist
Above average pay (about $63,000 as of July 2015)***
Can do this job with a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field*
Provide comfort and safety to individuals and the public**
Exercise creativity along with technical knowledge and skills*

Cons of Becoming a Cooling Scientist
Many jobs require a Professional Engineer's license*
Slow job growth (expect about 5% from 2012-2022)*
In the bottom third of the salary range for engineering specialties*
Some engineering projects call for long hours*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, ***

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Cooling scientists are part of the mechanical engineering profession and are more commonly known as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers. They often work with refrigeration (HVACR) as well. HVAC engineers design and monitor heating and cooling systems, playing an important role in making interior spaces comfortable, ensuring food safety and boosting the energy efficiency of buildings. They may work for engineering consultancies, service contractors, facilities maintenance companies, manufacturers, utilities or government agencies. Many work on new or retrofitted systems for buildings of all sorts, but others work on refrigeration in manufacturing or heating and cooling systems for automobiles.

Salary Information

HVAC engineers earned a median salary of about $63,000 in 2015, according to The lowest paid 10% of these professionals earned around $45,000 or less, while the highest paid 10% earned roughly $88,000 or more.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts employment growth for mechanical engineers at 5% for 2012-2022, which is slower than the national average, with some variance across the range of industries in which mechanical engineers work. However, sustained demand in the building sector is likely, along with expansion where alternative energy is involved - both of which could be good news for aspiring HVAC engineers.

What Are the Requirements?


Cooling scientists need a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related field, which may take four or five years of study. Emphasis on internships or cooperative education makes some programs longer, but the experience and earnings can be real bonuses. Some accelerated programs enable students to earn both bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering in five years. Whatever route you choose, expect to take classes in math, chemistry, physics, engineering science and design and to complete a major project. Keep in mind that holding a degree from a program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is necessary for professional licensing later on.


Comfort with computers is a must in the HVAC field. HVAC engineers use a variety of design software, such as AutoCAD and Revit, as well as standard office applications. Technical skills are also critical, such as being able to perform load calculations, analyze energy usage and apply the latest standards to new and old buildings. Creativity and problem-solving play a key role, too, as different projects present distinct challenges. Finally, HVAC engineers need to be effective communicators to share their ideas and analyses with co-workers, managers and clients.

Licensing & Certifications

You may or may not need credentials depending on where you work and in what capacity. In all states, engineers who offer services directly to the public must be licensed as Professional Engineers (PE). Generally, becoming a PE requires a degree from an ABET-accredited program, four years of relevant work experience and passing scores on two standardized exams. Passing the first exam after graduation confers Engineer in Training (EIT) status. You become a PE after passing the second exam. Licenses are transferable among different states, although renewal periods and continuing education regulations vary.

Voluntary certifications in HVAC are available from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). ASHRAE offers six distinct certifications, covering such areas as building energy modeling and healthcare facility design. Applicants must have the requisite education and experience and pass an exam. Certifications need to be renewed every three years and require continuing education.

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers of HVAC engineers generally want a strong mix of technical background, computer expertise and interpersonal skills. In manufacturing environments, employers prize knowledge of measurement and testing methods, plus relevant industry standards. In construction-focused firms, employers desire engineers with a wide range of design and implementation skills. Finally, even for jobs without client contact, ads typically call for excellent communicators. Here are several real job postings from April 2012:

  • A biotechnology equipment manufacturer sought a refrigeration engineer for its Connecticut plant. Minimum qualifications were a bachelor's degree and five years of related experience. The job called for proficiency in SolidWorks or ProEngineer, plus knowledge of refrigeration component specifications and testing methods.
  • A Wisconsin air conditioning company advertised for an entry-level HVAC systems integration engineer to work in product development. A bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering was required. Candidates needed to have studied heat transfer and measurement systems and to have worked with PLC controllers and thermocouplers.
  • A Maryland-based energy and engineering services firm wanted to hire an HVAC design engineer. Requirements included a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, 3-5 years of experience, AutoCAD skills and PE status.
  • An engineering firm in Michigan searched for an HVAC engineer to work on industrial and commercial buildings. PE or EIT status, plus a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and five years of experience, was required.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Specializing in HVAC while in school may not be required to get a job in the industry, but it could boost your career prospects. Some bachelor's degree programs in engineering allow students to focus on HVAC. There are also post-baccalaureate certificate programs for those who already have an engineering degree. Classes cover topics such as fluid mechanics, heat transfer and refrigeration design.

In such a technically oriented field, keeping on top of the latest technology is also a good way to ensure your marketability. The BLS has noted that mechanical engineers who can use the most cutting-edge software, such as advanced visualization process tools, will have the best job prospects.

While you are honing your engineering and computer skills, make sure you learn to write and speak well, too. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) stresses the importance of effective communication, whether you are job seeking or already employed.

Alternative Career Paths

Mechanical Drafter

If the technical focus of cooling science appeals to you but getting a bachelor's degree doesn't, then mechanical drafting might be a better career path. Drafters turn engineers' designs into technical drawings for use in manufacturing. An associate's degree is the standard qualification and excellent computer skills are crucial. According to the BLS, mechanical drafters earned an average of around $52,000 in 2011, and job growth is expected to be 11% from 2010-2020, a bit faster than for mechanical engineers.

Sales Engineer

If you excel at science and math but are concerned that engineering may not be people-oriented enough, consider a career as a sales engineer. Sales engineers sell technologically or scientifically complex products, using both their technical background and expert salesmanship. The main prerequisite is a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field. There may be considerable travel, and since earnings depend partly on sales, the job can be stressful. The BLS reported that sales engineers earned a mean salary of about $97,000 in 2011, with jobs predicted to increase by 14% from 2010-2020, matching the national average.

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