Engineering to an outside observer may just seem like one giant profession of people who like math. The reality of the matter is though that within engineering there's a massive breadth of disciplines that are about as different as astronomers and astrologists.
For example, civil engineers might design bridges or a wastewater treatment system for a large municipality; while electrical engineers might design electricity transmission towers or circuits for a small robotics firm. All the while, each has little ability to do what the other does (unless, of course, they studied that field of engineering too).
All this means is that if you're looking to become an engineer, you need to spend some time figuring out just what type of engineer you want to become. To do just that, we've compiled a detailed – and alphabetized – list of the most common engineering degrees and even listed some of the subcategories of engineering you can specialize in for each.
Aerospace engineers work on designing, researching, simulating aircraft. That doesn't just mean planes, that can mean anything from rockets to missiles. If it flies through the air at some point in its design life, chances are an aerospace engineer was involved in the design process.
More specifically, Aerospace engineers will focus in on aerodynamics and aerodynamic principles, like wings, airfoils, properties of lift and drag and more.
Subcategories: Aeronautics, Thermal Management, Space
Agricultural engineering is one of the oldest forms of the engineering profession focusing in on agricultural processes.
Engineers in this field are vital to improving the world's food and biomaterial supply, often working on water management, farm management, farm economics, and even food modification.
Subcategories: Food Security, GMOs, Pesticides, Environmental
Audio engineering requires equal parts technology and creative passion. Audio engineers will work on audio equipment, whether in the design process or during operation. Creativity comes into play as audio engineers are often responsible for sound design for films, musicians, or even just electronic devices.
Audio engineering is particularly unique because engineers in this space can be highly technical on the equipment design side of things or highly creative on the audio mastering side of things.
Subcategories: Acoustics, Audio Mastering, Machine Design
Automotive engineering is often thought of as a subset of mechanical engineering, which it is, but it involves its own set of engineering principles. Automotive engineers work to design cars, trucks, motorcycles, essentially anything that drives on land.
Automotive engineers can also be highly specialized in the devices that make these machines work, like in engine design or transmission design.
Biomedical engineering is at the cutting edge of engineering and medical technology. These engineers constantly research new innovations in the medical and biological sciences space to advance the healthcare industry.
Biomedical engineers often design incredibly small machines designed to be implanted in human tissue. They can also be heavily focused on the biological side of things as well, researching new ways to improve tissue growth, be involved in drug research, or a plethora of other cutting edge medical technologies.Subcategories: Pharmaceuticals, Prosthetics, Implants
Chemical engineers are responsible for more things around you than you might think. While they are involved in creating things like pesticides and other household chemicals, they also work on developing materials like new plastics, new foods like lab-grown meat, and new medicines or medical treatments as well.
Regardless of the specialty in this field, chemical engineers almost always do the same thing, work with chemicals and chemical equations, it's usually just the desired outcome that changes the materials, food, medicine, etc.
Subcategories: Biochemical, Ceramics, Nanotechnology
Civil engineers design, manage and operate infrastructure around the globe. That doesn't just mean roads and bridges, it also means potable water pipelines, wastewater treatment, and there's even a subset of civil engineering called environmental engineering.
Civil engineering is arguably the oldest of all the engineering professions and is vital to everything about daily life, from construction to transportation.
Computer engineering isn't software engineering or computer science, rather it focuses solely on the hardware of computers. As a computer engineer, you'd be closely working with an electronic component design like improving PCB design, increasing storage capacity, designing new computer chips, etc.
While computer engineers will likely need to know how to code and understand how the software operates, this subset of engineering will be focused on hardware.Subcategories: PCB Design, Data Science, Mechatronics
Electrical engineers, affectionately known as Double-Es by other engineers, focus on electronics, electromagnetism, and electricity. They will work closely with biomedical engineers, computer engineers, mechanical engineers, and other fields of engineering.
Electrical engineering is a fairly technical and complex side of engineering, involving a high degree of mathematical and scientific understanding in the field, not unlike chemical engineering. EEs will work in labs, offices, or even on factory floors.
Environmental engineering is a subset of civil engineering that involves a significant focus on environmental stability, water purity, air purity, and reduction of pollution or other hazards. Environmental engineers work to reduce hazardous waste, predict the effects of contaminants and pollution, and manage the proper disposal of chemicals.
Subcategories: Waste Management, Chemical Management
Materials Science Engineering
Materials Science engineers work to improve or create new materials to bring to the market. That can mean anything from new aluminum alloys for the automotive market all the way to new medical gels that aide in tissue regrowth.
Materials Science Engineers also have a huge part in space and aerospace industry as they can help improve or design the raw materials of different spacecraft.
Subcategories: Consumer Goods, Rocketry, Research
Mechanical Engineering is the most common engineering degree and is by far the broadest. In all practicality, around half of the disciplines on this list could be grouped in this field.
This degree will focus on two major things: thermal systems and mechanical systems. If it's supposed to move heat up or cool it down, chances are a mechanical engineer was involved in the creation of it.
Subcategories: Aerospace, Manufacturing, Thermal Simulation, Automotive
Nuclear engineering is a fairly integrated field, meaning it requires significant knowledge of different parts of engineering.
Nuclear engineers can work on medical imaging technologies all the way to nuclear reactors. It requires knowledge of mechanical, environmental, chemical, and even electrical engineering principles.
Subcategories: Medical Imaging, Power Generation, Electronics
Petroleum engineering focuses in on the extraction and production of hydrocarbon fuels. That's anything from crude oil to natural gas. While this field may not be the most well looked upon in the age of global warming, its still an essential part of modern energy production.
Petroleum engineers will need a good understanding of environmental engineering as well as geotechnical engineering.
Subcategories: Natural Gas, Pipeline Engineering, Fracking
Software engineering is the newest of the engineering disciplines and with that, possibly the most unstructured one that is rapidly evolving.
It is vitally important to our modern world and can play a role in any engineering discipline's work. If programming or computers are involved in a device, then a software engineer worked on it at some point.
Subcategories: Computer Programming, Data Storage, Front End/Back End Engineering