A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Engineering Disciplines - PhDportal.com

A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Engineering Disciplines

Technology advanced rapidly in recent decades, so Engineering also diversified into numerous branches leading to a range of different job opportunities. With over 20 different types of Engineering, you might find it difficult to choose the right one for you. So let’s have a look at all specialities and see what each entails. 

An Engineering degree is great no matter what you do afterwards because you develop awesome problem-solving skills, learn how to understand complex concepts, and become a master at meeting deadlines. However, you’ll be much happier choosing Engineering for the right reasons. Start by recognising that STEM subjects are very diverse today, and if you’re good at science and maths doesn’t necessarily mean you should become an Engineer. Neither should you go for it because of financial reasons: while you will have a good salary as an engineer, you won’t become wealthy by default. 

Who should become an engineer?  

An engineer is good at maths and science, that’s for sure, but he/she is also someone who wants to know how stuff is made and how objects are built or constructed. Who likes to analyse, develop practical solutions for problems, and create new designs. 

But even if you recognise yourself in the description above, you are still left with many choices for your Engineering degree.

What major types of engineering are there?

Most sources recognise at least 4 but sometimes up to 6 major types of Engineering with the remaining ones being often connected or even a subdivision of one of these. Let’s understand the main ones first:

mechanical engineer

1. Mechanical Engineering

Most of the time, when people imagine an engineer, they actually imagine a mechanical engineer. They are the ones who design, build, and fix mechanical systems, such as machines, tools, or engines. To do that, you need to learn and apply the principles of Physics, Materials Science, and Mathematics. 

Mechanical Engineering is probably the most versatile branch of Engineering, which allows you to explore a wide area of jobs afterwards. As a Mechanical Engineer, you could work on designing automobiles, aircraft, robots, medical devices, heating and cooling systems, power generation equipment, and much more. You could also work on reducing environmental impact or on improving safety in a variety of industries.

However, you can also choose a more specific Engineering degree that ties in closely with Mechanical Engineering, like the following:

Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace Engineering is a branch of Engineering that focuses on issues related to atmospheric and space travel. As an aerospace engineer, you would design, develop, and manufacture aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and other flight-related technologies. This field has two major branches: 

  1. Aeronautical Engineering, which relates to technology meant for flying within the Earth's atmosphere.

  2. Astronautical Engineering, which is concerned with designing and building spacecraft.

Marine Engineering

Marine Engineering focuses on the design, construction, and maintenance of marine vessels and structures, such as ships, boats, and submarines. Marine engineers work on various projects related to such vessels as well as other marine equipment. 

Often, marine engineers work on board ships, so being prepared to work at sea for long periods of time is an important factor to consider if you want to apply for this degree.

Apart from mechanical engineering, this field also overlaps with electrical, electronic, and computer engineering. 

Automotive Engineering

Automotive Engineering is all about making and maintaining automobiles: this involves design, development, and maintenance. It’s a specialised engineering branch which uses knowledge from Mechanical Engineering but also Electrical, Software, and Safety Engineering. 

electrical engineer

2. Electrical Engineering

Electrical Engineering is another major branch of Engineering, relevant to almost all other Engineering specialities. As the name suggests, it revolves around the study and use of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. In simple terms, Electrical Engineering deals with generating and distributing power and using it to control machines and devices. 

Working as an electrical engineer is a fairly new profession (not as new as software engineers, though), which appeared in the late 19th century after people started generating and distributing electrical power and the first electronic devices – the telephone and the electric telegraph – were commercialised. Since then, this branch has evolved massively and now has several subspecialties and is incorporated into many other branches, such as Computer Engineering or Mechatronics Engineering.   

Other Engineering degrees which are more specific but still draw considerably on principles of Electrical Engineering include:

Telecommunication Engineering

Telecommunication Engineering is a specialised branch of Electrical Engineering that focuses on designing and implementing communication systems. The goal is to develop high-speed data transmission services and give us solutions to communicate effectively.  

Computer (Hardware) Engineering

This branch of Engineering focuses on the design, development, and testing of the physical components of a computer, such as processors, chips, circuits, memory, and motherboards. 

civil engineering

3. Civil Engineering 

Civil Engineering focuses on the infrastructure and buildings of our society. A civil engineer is involved in designing and building things like roads, bridges, and buildings, but also airports, the sewage system and sewage treatment plants, water supply systems and dams. 

In other words, civil engineers work with the physical environment around us, always improving it and aiming at making it as efficient as possible. In terms of your actual job, you will spend a good amount of time on construction sites or the road, so this is perfect if you don’t like spending all your time sitting at a desk. 

Another thing worth mentioning is that working as a civil engineer will differ greatly depending on your location. Infrastructure can be quite different from country to country and even from city to city. 

Other Engineering degrees which are more specific but still draw considerably on principles of Civil Engineering include:

Structural Engineering

Structural Engineering deals with the construction of safe and resistant structures fit for the environment around them. Like Civic Engineers, structural engineers also work on buildings, bridges, dams, and so on, but they focus primarily on designing systems that can withstand different forces and environmental factors like gravity, earthquakes, strong wind, or temperature fluctuations.

Environmental Engineering

Environmental Engineering applies engineering principles to environmental issues in order to find solutions for problems like pollution, developing sustainable sources of energy, or waste management. Your knowledge base would also include soil science, chemistry, and biology. 

Transportation Engineering

Transportation Engineering is about the design, construction and operation of transportation systems for people and goods alike. It includes transport by air, rail, highway, roads, and even pipelines. Engineers have the task of optimising traffic flow and safety. They need to consider the environment, which is an important aspect for transportation, but also national and local legislation, and the use of energy and its impact on climate change. 

chemical engineer

4. Chemical Engineering 

Chemical Engineering involves finding ways to turn raw materials into finished products through chemical processes. For this reason, chemical engineers need to learn mathematics and physics like all engineers, but also chemistry and biology. 

The processes a chemical engineer works with include refining petroleum in order to produce fuels or create plastics, as well as manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs, and even developing sustainable energy sources.

According to the American Chemical Society, some of the common tasks of a chemical engineer are:

  • “Ensuring compliance with health, safety, and environmental regulations

  • Conducting research into improved manufacturing processes

  • Designing and planning equipment layout

  • Incorporating safety procedures for working with dangerous chemicals

  • Monitoring and optimising the performance of production processes

  • Estimating production costs”

Other Engineering degrees which are more specific but still draw considerably on principles of Chemical Engineering include:

Pharmaceutical Engineering

Pharmaceutical Engineering uses principles of Chemical Engineering but combines them with Biotechnology and Industrial Engineering in order to develop new medicinal drugs and ensure the safe production and distribution of these products. Pharmaceutical engineers perform extensive research on already existing drugs and their effects before they start working on developing new medication. 

Biochemical Engineering

Biochemical Engineering focuses on processes that involve the use of living organisms or their components for the production of food, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and water treatment products. Some tasks that biochemical engineers perform include fermentation processes and genetic engineering, so extensive knowledge of biology and chemistry is essential.

Textile Engineering

Textile Engineering is focused on the production and improvement of textile products. Engineers work with fibres, fabrics, yarns, and other materials to design diverse products, such as materials for medical devices, heat-resistant fabrics for firefighters’ uniforms, or even biomedical materials for artificial organs. The process includes selecting raw materials, developing efficient manufacturing techniques and creating textile products. 

industrial engineer

5. Industrial Engineering

Industrial Engineering focuses on optimising complex systems and processes in various industries. This can apply to areas like manufacturing, services, transportation, healthcare, and commerce, as well as others. The industrial engineer tries to improve these systems or processes and make them more efficient by reducing costs, identifying bottlenecks (blockages in a production system which create big delays), or reducing waste. With a wide range of duties, industrial engineers work with the physical, economic, human, and financial aspects of a system, process, or business to reach their objectives. 

>> See our article on What Is Industrial Engineering and Why Should I Study It if you want to find out more about it. 

Other Engineering degrees which are more specific but still draw considerably on principles of Industrial Engineering include:

Systems Engineering

Systems Engineering is an interdisciplinary field which integrates knowledge from several engineering branches like industrial, electrical, mechanical, and others in order to design well-performing systems. According to NASA, “a ‘system’ is the combination of elements that function together to produce the capability required to meet a need.” So Systems Engineering is about finding the right balance between several factors that can make a system function most efficiently.

Supply Chain Engineering

Supply Chain Engineering deals with the design and optimisation of supply chains – the process of turning raw materials into finished products, which are afterwards sold to consumers. Thus it involves planning, sourcing, logistics, production, pricing, and delivery.  A Supply Chain Engineer works with mathematical modelling (describing a concrete system in mathematical terms and concepts). 

Manufacturing Engineering

Manufacturing Engineering applies engineering principles to the process of improving productivity, efficiency, and quality in manufacturing operations. In order to achieve high-quality products, engineers optimise production methods, equipment and technologies, and work strategies. 

software engineer

6. Software Engineering

Software Engineering is considered a branch of Computer Science where you use engineering principles in order to design, develop, and maintain computer software. A software engineer doesn’t work with computer hardware, nor is he/she a programmer, whose job is primarily to write code. 

Software engineers are involved in the entire software development life cycle: starting with analysing requirements and continuing with designing the system architecture, coding the software, testing for functionality and quality, deploying the software, and maintaining and updating it over time. 

Other types of Engineering

  • Mechatronics Engineering combines elements of mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering to design and develop smart systems and products that integrate mechanical components with electronics and software.
  • Agricultural Engineering applies engineering principles to optimise and develop efficient systems and equipment for agricultural production, addressing areas such as machinery design, irrigation systems, and crop management.
  • Biomedical Engineering involves the application of engineering principles and technologies to design, develop, and improve medical devices, equipment, and healthcare systems, with a focus on enhancing patient care and outcomes.
  • Materials Engineering deals with the study and manipulation of materials to design and enhance their properties for various applications, such as developing new alloys, improving structural materials, and exploring advanced materials for specific purposes.
  • Mining and Geological Engineering involves the extraction and processing of minerals and other geological resources, requiring expertise in areas such as mine planning, geotechnical engineering, and environmental management to ensure safe and sustainable mining practices.
  • Nuclear Engineering encompasses the study and application of nuclear processes and technologies, including power generation, radiation detection, and nuclear medicine, with a focus on safety, waste management, and the efficient utilisation of nuclear resources.
  • Petroleum Engineering involves the exploration, extraction, and production of oil and gas resources, requiring expertise in areas such as reservoir analysis, drilling techniques, and production optimisation to ensure efficient and sustainable petroleum operations.

Where can you study Engineering?

If you already did a bit of research into Engineering degrees, this question won’t be so surprising because you probably noticed that universities are not the only ones offering Engineering degrees. In most countries, you can study Engineering at regular universities, but their tendency is to have a more theoretical-based approach. However, you can also study Engineering at polytechnics, which are, in short, technical universities. It means they are specialised in technical fields of study and have a more hands-on approach to teaching. Knowledge gained will often be applied in practical exercises, assignments, and other activities. Apart from universities and polytechnics, you might also find Engineering degrees offered by colleges. However, in most countries, colleges are smaller institutions and don’t award postgraduate degrees.

We hope that all this information will help you make your decision easier. If you’re ready, head over to Bachelorsportal or Mastersportal and check out all the English-taught Engineering degrees available.   

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