Education and Training Requirements
While few courses at the high school level are directly related to materials engineering, the foundation for engineering includes a wide range of math and science courses. If you are interested in pursuing a career in this field, invest in an education steeped heavily in math and science, including geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, biology, physics, and computer programming. Materials engineers who will also be designing products will need drafting skills, so computer-aided design, mechanical drawing, and art classes are an excellent choice.
English, speech, and foreign language classes will help you develop strong communication skills and provide you with the opportunity to learn how to better express yourself.
If your career goal is to become a materials engineer, you will need a bachelor of science degree in materials, metallurgical engineering, ceramic engineering, plastics engineering, or a related field. Degrees are granted in many different specializations by many universities and colleges in the United States.
There are a wide variety of programs available at colleges and universities, and it is helpful to explore as many of these programs as possible, especially those that are accredited by ABET (https://www.abet.org). Some programs prepare students for practical design and production work; others concentrate on theoretical science and mathematics.
Many engineers continue on for a master's degree either immediately after graduation or after a few years of work experience. A master's degree generally takes two years of study. There is also a five-year program that grants participants a bachelor's and a master's degree in engineering.
Other Education or Training
The American Society for Engineering Education offers continuing education opportunities for engineers via its annual conference and other events. The National Society of Professional Engineers provides webinars for student members of the society. The Society of Women Engineers offers conference sessions, webinars, and other education resources on topics such as leadership, career development, and special issues for women in engineering. Other organizations that provide continuing education opportunities include the American Ceramic Society; ASM International; and the Society of Plastics Engineers. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Licensing is not generally required for most materials engineering professions. However, licensing is recommended to enhance your credentials and make yourself open to more job opportunities.
In general, the licensing process for all branches of engineering results in the formal designation of Professional Engineer (PE). Requirements vary from state to state but generally it takes about four to five years to become a licensed PE. Many engineers begin the process by taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after college graduation. It is a test that covers everything from electronics, chemistry, mathematics, and physics to the more advanced engineering issues.
A candidate who has successfully passed the FE exam is commonly known as an engineer in training (EIT) or engineer intern (EI). The next requirement to fulfill is to acquire four years of progressive engineering experience. Once a candidate has four years of on-the-job experience, he or she then takes another exam specific to their engineering area (each branch of engineering has its own specialized, upper-level test). Candidates who successfully complete this examination are officially referred to as Professional Engineers.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
With new products being developed daily, materials engineers are constantly under pressure to integrate new technology and science. Having the imagination to consider all of the possibilities and then being versatile enough to adapt one application of a metal, ceramic, polymer, or other material to another situation are perhaps the most essential qualities for materials engineers. To accomplish this, materials engineers must first learn how the material may be applicable to their industry or product line, and then decide how to adjust their current manufacturing process to incorporate it.
In addition to having a good mechanical aptitude for developing parts and tooling, one of the more basic qualities for any student considering a career in materials engineering is a solid understanding of the properties of the material they work with—be it metals, ceramics, polymers, or a composite of these materials.
As in every scientific endeavor, there are always a varying number of factors which influence the outcome of the experiment, and the chemical configurations of a specific material is no different. It takes an individual with an extraordinary amount of patience, focus, and determination to notice precisely what factors are achieving the desired results. Successful materials engineers pay attention to the smallest detail, note the nuances between experiments, and then use that information to develop further tests or theories. Having a certain amount of critical distance helps materials engineers step back from the minutia and reassess the direction in which they're headed.
Materials engineers need to be inquisitive, to take creative steps toward improvements by constantly asking questions and to take a fresh look at familiar practices. In addition, good communication skills are vital for success in engineering. Materials engineers may be required to write reports and present their research before large audiences at industry seminars.