What Is a Research Engineer?

Research engineers plan, design, develop, and build innovative equipment and technologies using a research-driven process. They perform investigations, testing, modeling, verifications, comparative analysis, and other forms of research to make educated recommendations. They support and guide organizations or clients in making informed decisions based on this data, which is then used to develop action plans for designing and implementing systems and equipment that supports key objectives. They also play an active role in strategic planning by providing ongoing research-based input and advice. Research engineers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science, or another technical field, although an advanced degree is often preferred. They should have hands-on experience with a wide range of research tools and programs, including verification and testing programs.

A research engineer may work in or supervise a research department. Some duties of a research engineer include: Analyzing, implementing, and testing the materials developed in a research lab. Creating designs for instruments or devices based on innovative concepts so that they are functional.

Meet Ruth: a research engineer

What does a research engineer do?

The duties of a research engineer vary on the type of engineering they work in and their industry. However, some of the general or common responsibilities of a research engineer include:

What is a research engineer?

The field of research engineering can vary greatly depending on an individuals engineering specialty. However, they typically work within the Research & Development department of an organization, government agency or academic institution. Generally, research engineers develop products, processes or technology for their employer. To achieve this, they gather relevant information, data or samples, then analyze their research and perform tests to create optimal and innovative solutions.

Some of the industries or fields where research engineers work include:

Average salary for a research engineer

Performing the role of a research engineer requires you to utilize a range of both soft and hard skills. Some of the skills that will help you succeed include:

How to become a research engineer

Follow these steps to pursue a career as a research engineer:

1. Obtain a bachelors degree

You must first receive a bachelors degree in an engineering field. Research engineers can come from a variety of engineering disciplines, such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering or mechanical engineering. So you may determine a specialization to pursue based on which industry interests you most. Make sure to obtain a degree from an accredited school, which is typically required for licensure.

Engineering students typically spend the first two years of their degree program taking coursework in relevant subjects such as advanced mathematics or sciences, including physics and chemistry. Once you have completed these prerequisites, you can take courses focused on your engineering specialization.

2. Gain work experience

To gain relevant work experience during school, you can participate in internships or cooperative work programs. As an intern, you may work for a company over a semester or summer. In co-ops, your school may partner with companies to provide work experiences for its students. You may work for the same company over an extended period during your schooling, which means you often have to balance having a full-time job and schoolwork.

Any opportunity that provides you hands-on, relevant experience as a research engineer will be valuable to potential employers. Having a degree is important, but employers will be very impressed if you have demonstrable experience working in the field and performing the tasks of the job.

3. Receive a Professional Engineer license

Gaining your Professional Engineer licensure can prove beneficial because some employers only have an interest in PE candidates. Some engineering jobs even require that you have PE licensure—for example, if you work for a government agency. Being a PE can not only increase the opportunities available to you, but it also serves as a way to demonstrate your significant qualifications and abilities as an engineer to both employers and clients.

The requirements for licensure can vary by state, but generally, you will need to have graduated from an accredited school, have at least four years of work experience as an engineer, and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering and Principles & Practice of Engineering exams. If you are interested in becoming licensed as a Professional Engineer in your state, contact the engineering association that covers your geographic area for details on the requirements.

4. Consider getting an advanced degree

If you want to gain more senior positions, you may think about pursuing an advanced degree. Obtaining a masters degree in engineering can take about one to two years to complete, while a doctorate can take two to four years. In these degree programs, you will take on more advanced and specific coursework related to your engineering concentration and gain more advanced research, laboratory and design experience. By participating in such programs, you can prove to employers that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform as a research engineer.

While in school, try to look at job listings for research engineers to assess the types of candidates employers are looking to hire. Some employers prefer candidates who have a masters degree, so that may factor into your decision on whether to continue your schooling and pursue an advanced degree.

Research engineer work environment

Research engineers generally work full-time, which means at least 40 hours each week, often with the option to work overtime as needed. Depending on their engineering specialty, they can work in a variety of environments. Typically, however, they spend most of their time in an office or laboratory setting using tools, software and equipment relevant to their specialized field.

For example, a biomedical research engineer may work in a lab using advanced microscopes to observe and analyze chemical interactions. Meanwhile, a product research engineer may work in an office and use computer software to simulate the design and performance of a product, then write a report on their findings.

FAQ

Are research engineers scientists?

The research engineer role doesn’t, though publishing papers always helps. For some teams, there’s no difference between a research scientist and a research engineer. Research scientists should, first and foremost, be engineers. Both research scientists and engineers come up with ideas and implement those ideas.

What degree do you need to be a research engineer?

A career as a research engineer requires college and post-graduate education. Entry-level job qualifications usually include a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related subject. Some companies may prefer to hire candidates with engineering experience or with a master’s degree or Ph.

Do engineers work in research?

Fields in which Research Engineers Work

A research engineer works in R&D (Research and Development), although R&D teams may be found in a variety of industries. Research engineers with backgrounds in mechanical engineering may work in the fields of product development and industrial design.

How can I be a good research engineer?

A successful research engineer should have technical skills, critical thinking skills, research skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, analytical skills, and attention to detail. The typical workweek for a research engineer is 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday from 9 to 5.

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