Scientists Vs. Engineers: Inventing the Impossible

Engineers and scientists both play huge roles in invention. Here's how.
Richard Adefioye
Engineers in Action1, 2

Over the past two decades, the world has seen a kind of surge in technological advancement that was almost unimaginable at the turn of the century. From realistic video games to social media and various smart devices, the power of technological invention has been felt by almost everyone on the planet.

But let’s face it – there can be no discussion about invention and technology without scientists and engineers. While it is true that every profession is important for overall world development, scientists and engineers are at the very heart of technological advancement and deserve some serious recognition for all their hard work. Here’s what you need to know about engineers and engineers.

Scientist vs Engineers: What’s the Difference?

Okay, in case you didn’t know, a scientist is not an engineer. And no, it’s not okay to use both terms to refer to the same thing. What’s the difference? Well, here’s the short answer as put by Joseph Payack, Head Scientist, Vermont Organic Science: “A scientist makes discoveries, while an engineer turns those discoveries into practical inventions." in a correspondence with Interesting Engineering

Generally speaking, the job of scientists is to understand the natural workings of the universe. They unravel new principles that deepen our understanding of the world around us. And they do this by making observations, proposing hypotheses, and conducting series of experiments to validate or disprove these hypotheses.

Army scientists energize battery research
Army scientists conducting battery research Source: U.S. Army CCDC/Flickr

Engineers on the other hand are the creators. They take advantage of existing scientific knowledge and apply the principles of physics and mathematics to develop new products or improved versions of the existing ones.

Regardless of the differences in the job description of scientists and engineers, one thing they both have in common is their heavy reliance on data. But what they do with the data after they get it is another story entirely. For scientists, the goal of generating data from experiments is to better understand the world around us. On the other hand, an engineer uses data to create a new product or improve an existing one.

Who Gets The Better Pay?

Okay, when it comes to salaries, it’s kind of hard to conclusively say who makes more money. And that’s because several factors such as experience, educational background, and specific job titles influence the compensation package a scientist or an engineer gets. That said, both scientists and engineers are well paid.

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Generally speaking though, scientists make more money. As of April 2021, the average salary for scientists in the United States is $108k, compared to an engineer with a base salary of $81k. But these are just averages. In reality, certain scientists make far less than these numbers. For instance, the mean annual salary for an Animal Scientist position is around $74,500 per year, which is a far cry from the mean annual salary of an experienced astronomer, who can expect to make north of $126k each year. And the same applies to engineers.

How to Become a Scientist or an Engineer

As you could probably imagine, both scientists and engineers undergo pretty thorough training. And that’s because innovation and scientific discoveries require both intelligence and creativity. So, “the rigorous training required to become a scientist or an engineer is designed to weed out folks that don’t have these attributes,” Payack said.

However, if you’re considering a career in science or engineering, there’s no need to be scared. With a little discipline and dedication, you’ll be just fine. Generally speaking, both engineers and scientists need to obtain at least a bachelor's degree. Engineers often don’t need to go beyond masters level except when they desire to be in academia, but most scientists need to get a Ph.D. to be considered experts in their fields.

The college coursework you’ll need to take to become an engineer will vary widely depending on the specific branch you chose. But in general, you’ll likely take lots of engineering, physics, mathematics, and science courses. You may also need to take general courses such as English and social science classes, but that depends on your college. If you would rather become a scientist, your college coursework will also be determined primarily by your discipline of choice. But in general, scientists typically have to take courses like biology, chemistry, algebra, and environmental sciences.

Collaboration Is Key

There’s a very good reason why almost every company combines its research and development (R&D) groups, and it’s because neither the researchers (scientists) or developers (engineers) can truly be independent of each other.

“Everything we use in our daily lives was first studied by a scientist and then turned over to an engineer to build,” Anthony Migyanka, the inventor of CLLEEN VAP evaporator technology, said to Interesting Engineering. So, the truth is, scientists and engineers are mutually reliant on each other every single day.

Robert Hurlston, a senior engineer at Fidelis Engineering Associates, puts it this way, “engineers apply science to the real world.” And that’s a pretty succinct way to sum it up. Although scientific discoveries are hugely important, they are largely irrelevant to the average person without the help of an engineer. Similarly, the work of engineers will be largely haphazard without the precious guidance provided by science.

For instance, “scientists discovered that by adding thermal neutrons to Uranium atoms, they became unstable, broke apart, and released energy,” Hurlston said. But he added that it was the engineer's job to figure out how that process could be contained and used to boil water, turn turbines and generate electric power.

So, what’s the point here? Well, scientists and engineers aren’t quite as independent of each other as people might think. As far as creating ground-breaking technology is concerned, scientists and engineers need to collaborate and leverage each other’s strengths. They’re both amazing and neither is superior to the other.

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