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Top 5 Careers for Engineering PhDs

Written by Tavis Mendez, PhD

I was only a few months away from obtaining my PhD in engineering.

I have always loved working in the engineering field because of the vast array of paths you can take when studying engineering.

But, as I neared the end of my studies, trying desperately to finish my thesis, I realized that I hadn’t taken the time to look at the job market.

I had been working long hours in the lab and had neglected to network.

I had not bothered to look at the world outside of academia.

What did engineering PhDs do after they graduated?

I didn’t see a lot of postgraduates shuttling back through the halls of academia.

Where did they all go after they graduated?

I decided to ask around my department and contact some of the alumni.

I set up quite a few informational interviews and learned about many of the opportunities, in the private and government sector, available to STEM PhDs.

During my informational interviews, my new connections stressed the importance of practicing my interview skills and getting my industry resume ready.

Through these new contacts, I was able to get a referral, which jump-started my job search, as I began my journey outside of academia.

I knew there was a place for me outside academia, I just had to go and take it.

Why Academia Isn’t The Only Avenue For Great Science

After spending countless days, months, and years on your PhD, it’s about time that you start thinking about what to do next.

Your future in academia is bleak.

According to Nature Biotechnology, 36,000 PhDs are awarded in STEM fields each year, but only 3,000 faculty positions open up.

Those are not good odds.

The truth is, if you stay in academia, you will very likely end up in an underpaid and dead-end postdoc.

Instead, you must realize there are many excellent opportunities suited to PhDs like you outside academia.

The National Science Foundation reported that only 2.1% of science and engineering PhDs are unemployed.

STEM PhDs are in high demand in industry.

There are many opportunities outside academia waiting for you to sink your teeth into.

Top 5 Jobs For Engineering PhDs

Do not feel pressured to stay in academia.

Leaving academia does not mean the end of your time as a scientist or engineer.

You can have a successful and lucrative STEM career outside of a university.

Here are the top 5 industry careers for engineering PhDs…

1. Chemical engineering.

Jobs in chemical engineering focus on the development of materials.

There are many types of positions in chemical engineering, and you will be able to avoid being pigeonholed into one career.

As a PhD, you are qualified for a position in project management, which is responsible for overseeing all aspects from the bench, to manufacturing, and production.

This would allow you to work on different types of projects and have an impact at all stages of development.

If you are interested in working at the bench, you may look into analytical chemical engineering.

Other areas such as manufacturing, mining, and material engineering are great options if you are more attuned to product development.

Meanwhile, positions such as production and quality managers are great options, if working directly with people is something you enjoy.

If you have a background in chemical engineering, there is definitely a job in industry suited to your interests and desired lifestyle.

Chemical engineers can expect to make a salary above $70,000.

2. Biomedical engineering.

Working in biomedical engineering gives you the opportunity to expand into medicine and scientific research.

If you have a calling to help people directly, you can look into biomechanics and orthopedic bioengineering.

These careers will place you into rehabilitation research, for those who have a need for ambulatory assistance.

Biomaterials, bioinstrumentation, and cellular/tissue engineering may be right up your alley if you are interested in doing R&D in a wet lab.

These are just a few of the options you can look into with a degree in biomedical engineering.

With the recent advances in Artificial Intelligence to help ambulatory patients, and the development of biomaterials to make long-lasting devices to replace vital portions of our bodies, there is a need for more PhDs in this area.

The biomedical engineering field is not slowing down any time soon.

Biomedical engineers can expect to earn an annual salary around $90,000.

3. Aerospace engineering.

If your dream is to work among the stars, aerospace engineering is a profession you may want to take a look at.

Here, you will be responsible for designing spacecraft, satellites, and missiles.

The work you do here will affect the globe as national defense, space exploration, and telecommunications will be in your hands.

The research and development done in aerospace engineering will not only be used in space, but can lead to real-world applications on Earth.

Recently, it has also been reported that the American Duopoly in the jetliner market is under siege, as new competitors have emerged from China, Canada, and Russia.

This will increase competition, and open up the market for new jobs in aerospace engineering.

Aerospace engineers can expect to earn a salary upwards of $100,000.

4. Computer software engineer.

Computers have come a long way since the advent of the first Turing machine.

With the continuous advancement of computers and Information Technology, it has created the need for extensive software development and security.

PhDs with computer engineering skills are in high demand.

The development and maintenance of computing systems is essential for almost every business infrastructure.

This leads back to the security concerns that come with 24/7 connectivity, whether you work in business, academia, or government.

PhDs in software and systems engineering will have to manage preventative, protective, and restorative measures to maintain the essential computing foundation for any organization.

Cyber-crime will not go away any time soon, and the cost of a massive cyber-attack is huge.

A major cyber-attack could cost up to $120 billion, giving companies huge motivation to invest in computer security and development.

Hence, one can make a lucrative career in computer software engineering.

A computer software engineer can expect to make more than $80,000.

5. Telecommunication engineering.

The new app economy, and the ability to purchase goods with virtual cash, has begun a new paradigm that requires the expertise of engineering PhDs.

If you consider yourself a connoisseur of gadgets, you may want to look into a career in telecommunications engineering.

In telecommunications, there are several specialties that are placed under one umbrella, which can be electrical, computer, and civil engineering.

In other words, you may work on circuitry, or you may be responsible for the development of wireless/broadband technology.

Telecommunications is advancing quickly, as companies scramble to develop their infrastructure and signal capabilities.

This niche career has plenty of potential and should be pursued to help the globalization of communication.

PhDs in telecommunication engineering can expect to earn a $75,000 salary.

The world of engineering has an array of choices available to PhDs. The time to start understanding what is available to you is now. The sooner you begin networking with industry professionals, the better your chances are for landing a job outside of academia. You are doing your career a disservice by limiting yourself to academia. In industry, your engineering PhD can earn you a position in chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, aerospace engineering, computer software engineering, or telecommunications engineering. The choice is yours to make.

To learn more about Top 5 High Paying Jobs For Engineering PhDs, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Tavis Mendez, Ph.D.

Tavis Mendez, Ph.D.

Tavis Mendez is a scientist in transition who has a passion for benchwork and communicating biomedical research to the public. Dreaming of becoming a scientist since his adolescent years, he obtained his Ph.D. in a parasitology lab, but has also travelled across the USA and to Asia to study cancer and hypertension. In his free time, Tavis loves to conduct culinary experiments in his kitchen.
Tavis Mendez, Ph.D.

Latest posts by Tavis Mendez, Ph.D. (see all)

  • Julian Holst

    The thing that I love about this blog is that it throws out ideas I never would have thought of. Like, who would think of looking in the space industry? There are so many diverse positions out there that I’m afraid I’m overlooking about half of them. I do have a direction and know what I like, but it seems that there are many more overlaps than I’d realized.

    • Tavis Mendez

      This is only the tip of the iceberg Julian, there are more opportunities for ENGIs out there. There are probably more being created on the way as careers intertwine with each other to form more unique positions. 🙂

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    This is terrific. Instead of wasting time looking for a post-doc that really won’t lead anywhere, I feel like it’s really time to get out in the world and start networking for a better way of life. Academia, I won’t miss you that much.

    • Tavis Mendez

      It is wise at this point to weigh all of the options that are there for us, and academia is not the only one. You are doing great for looking outside of academia, it is not as bad as some people may think.

  • Sonja Luther

    Networking is clearly the key to finding success, and another is keeping up on these global changes as markets and opportunities shift. These are turbulent but exciting times.

    • Tavis Mendez

      Networking! That is how I got my present job in industry making monoclonal antibodies. No, seriously it is. Also, with the constant advancements in the STEM field, there is always something interesting for an individual to follow.

  • Theo

    I have a passion for TQM, was involved for a short time, and I can see how the principles of quality management could extend into all kinds of engineering fields. Good food for thought.

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    This is a refreshing way to look at opportunities for PhDs in engineering. I find that all too many times, PhDs tend to underestimate what they can do and limit their choices. Better to use your imagination and carve out a career that not only pays well, but really makes you passionate about your career.

  • Harvey Delano

    I just saw that movie about the Turing machine. That was an eye opener, and so is your point that a major cyber attack could cost $120 billion. That’s a staggering number, but it only takes a second to start imagining all the businesses and personal information that could be at risk in an event like that. So, it’s quite obvious that the computer engineering and security field will always be in great demand.

  • Shawn Lyons, PhD

    I like this article just as much as the ones that break down positions according to geographic location. For some reason, Cheeky Scientist makes it a lot more fun to be in the job market, trying to find the best possible path.

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    This is really exciting, especially for those of us passionate about STEM and already working in a great career. These articles just keep stimulating thought, and they open the mind to possibilities. I hope that new PhD’s realize that it’s important to think continually about advancing and finding an even better career path as time goes by. Getting too complacent might mean missing out on great opportunities.

  • Kathy Azalea

    This kind of takes my thinking to a whole new level. There are some applications for a PhD that escaped me before. I might need to do some re-thinking about what I do when I get out of academia. Good to know there are more opportunities, though.

  • Winona Petit

    I know that I shocked everyone in my graduating class when I went into sales and marketing after getting my PhD. True, it shocked everyone, but I really enjoyed what I was doing, I was glad to have that position, and I worked my way into an upper-level management job that let me travel the entire world. Don’t ever let someone else limit your choices.