A college degree in systems engineering provides the necessary skills needed to interact with professionals engaged in a broad field of disciplines. Systems engineers must think holistically, taking into account every aspect of a project, including the costs involved, environmental concerns, timeframes, and life expectancy of equipment.
The demand for systems engineers is on the rise as systems become increasingly complex and the needs of companies cannot be met by engineers concentrating in a specific discipline, such as electronics, manufacturing, or computers. The birth of a global economy has also stimulated the need for systems engineers, as foreign and domestic platforms are often incompatible.
Bringing together engineers, businessmen, and workers from all parts of the globe and all walks of life is central to a career in systems engineering. Communication and mediation skills are a necessity in the field, as is the need to think of the big picture, instead of getting caught up in the details.
People working in the systems engineering field must be able to trust that the engineers involved in a project are doing their jobs correctly. They should be able to manage the creation of a system without becoming domineering, as the schedules of most projects do not allow for systems engineers to know every last detail of what is happening all of the time.
Systems engineers must also always be looking toward the future. This means that, when developing a system, they must be thinking of ways to improve upon the system in the future with minimal cost and time spent. Since technology is constantly growing and changing, developing systems that are easily adaptable to new technologies can decide the fate of a company. Thus, the responsibility of the systems engineer is very great indeed.
The most important aspects of a career in systems engineering include:
definition of requirements
management of projects
possible maintenance needs
ease of operations
future systems upgrades
communication between engineers, managers, suppliers, and customers in regards to the system's operations
A systems engineering major not only prepares the student for a career in systems engineering, but provides engineers with a deeper understanding of how systems work should they decide to specialize in a specific system later on down the road. This makes communicating with other systems engineers, project managers, customers and suppliers much easier. The study of systems engineering is all about the coordination of a team, and companies are more likely to hire someone with experience in team coordination.
The systems engineering major covers a broad range of disciplines, giving the systems engineer insight into everything that goes into the production of a process or product, including:
Advanced Math, including calculus and differential equations
Business ethics and management
Writing and communications
Systems engineers generally need to be natural problem solvers and excellent communicators. They need to be able to consider multiple factors and figure out ways for all of these factors to come together and form a whole process. This is called having a "systems view" and comes in handy no matter what field the student decides to go into.
Systems engineers must wear many hats, including that of the leader, the listener, the negotiator, and the diplomat. Careers in this field require a great deal of patience and resourcefulness, as well as good old-fashioned common sense. A desire for success without compromising ethics and ideals, as well as a keen sense of working as part of a team are necessary for a career in systems engineering.
Not to overlook the technical side of things, systems engineers, as all engineers, must be mechanically and technically competent. Their math and science skills must be without question. They must manage their time in the most effective way possible, making sure that every aspect of a project is given careful consideration.
Lastly, systems engineers must possess the desire and ability to never stop learning. Throughout the systems engineer's career, they will encounter numerous changes in technology and the economy. Survival and advancement in the engineering world requires adapting to change, learning from mistakes, and embracing new and different ideas.
When preparing to enter the field of systems engineering, it is important to take as many advanced math and science courses as possible before you apply to a degree program. This is usually a Bachelors of Science in Systems Engineering program, offered by many traditional or accredited online colleges and universities. Whether at your high school or through a continuing education program, brushing up on the math and science basics never hurts.
Knowledge of programming languages is also a good thing to take with you into a systems engineering program, though it is by no means a prerequisite. Experience in the field, whether it is working on a production line or being a quality control inspector, is always nice, though not an option for everyone. Taking as many advanced math, physics, and computer science classes as you can before applying is the most common way of increasing your chances of success.
Most engineering students don't stop their schooling after obtaining a BS. Proceeding on to an MS in a specialized engineering field is very common, and some students opt to continue on for their PhD in order to be eligible to teach at the college level.
College degree programs in systems engineering are diverse, giving the student the chance to interact with a variety of disciplines. Students can exercise the opportunity to specialize after the first couple years of study, but this is usually not required. Also, if the student finds an engineering discipline that seems to suit them better than systems engineering, it is relatively easy to transfer credits over to a different program or to switch majors.
Systems engineering degree programs include the Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering, the Master of Science in Systems Engineering, and the Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering, as well as specific certificate programs covering a broad range of topics. Each of these degrees can lead to rewarding careers as entry-level engineers, project managers, or teachers. The flexibility of the systems engineering degree means that careers are available to graduates in almost every industry.
Many professionals already within the field of systems engineering don't have the time or the need for a full degree program. For this reason, many certificate programs are available for people wishing to concentrate on a single area of systems engineering. Many of these certificate programs are available online in the form of distance education programs.
Distance education is very convenient for those who cannot afford to take time off of work or are not yet fully committed to pursuing systems engineering as a definite career choice. These certificate programs give many people the opportunity to learn a new skill from the comfort of their own homes and without having to quit their jobs or pay for an expensive degree program.
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
The first two years of most Bachelor of Science degree programs in systems engineering provide a basic overview of the field of engineering in general, with specializing coming the third or fourth years. This overview includes the study of technology and science, design engineering, and business.
The technology and science sections usually cover core mathematics and computer science, as well as physics and chemistry in the context of engineering. The design portion usually covers basic building techniques, and designing with different qualities in mind, such as function versus durability. Studying business allows the students valuable insight into the world in which engineering exists, and how to thrive in that world through a basic understanding of how it operates.
During the course of the first two years pursuing a bachelor's degree in systems engineering, students are often able to take one or two elective courses in something that interests them specifically. This can range anywhere from history to philosophy to auto mechanics.
The third and fourth years of study are often supplemented by either a research project, a work-study project, or a term abroad, depending on the program. The student has the opportunity to begin gaining hands-on experience in the field before graduating, thereby making the post-graduate job hunt much easier. These projects can range from working as an engineering assistant or research assistant to traveling abroad and working on simulated systems using a foreign platform.
Furthermore, the student is able to customize their program to a higher degree by selecting appropriate electives or picking up a minor in another discipline of engineering, such as business engineering or automotive engineering. Students can now begin to gear their degree toward the industry they believe they want to work in.
Online B.S. degrees are a natural choice for non-traditional students or students who wish to work full-time or can't leave home for one reason or another. These e-learning degrees are available from fully accredited universities across the country.
Master of Science in Systems Engineering
A program of graduate study in systems engineering is less about taking core classes, and more about developing a project that acts as the equivalent to a master's thesis. These projects are intended to simulate the process of working as part of a team in a particular industry, such as robotics, biomedical engineering, or electronics.
The projects are usually based around solving a specific systems problem or set of problems. Graduation is dependant upon the successful solution of the given problem or problems, and there is usually a presentation involved, as well as supervision, observation, and review during the project itself.
Pursuing a graduate degree in systems engineering is an excellent way to get hands-on experience prior to entering the work force. While most students will have some general hands-on experience due to lab work at the undergraduate level, the master's level project is a way to gauge how the student's problem solving capabilities and understanding of systems sizes up.
Graduate programs also often offer more flexibility than traditional undergraduate programs, allowing the student to maintain a job or spend time with their family. Without as many strict classes to attend, and with the classes that are offered being offered at all times of day and night, graduate students can make their own schedules. This means that they can devote more time to job and family, while doing the research project at their convenience.
Doctorate Degree Programs in Systems Engineering
If a student wishes to go on to teach at the college level or to become a research professional in his or her field, they may further their studies by entering a PhD program in systems engineering. The Doctor of Philosophy in Systems Engineering is a terminal degree, making the student eligible to teach at the university level.
Most PhD programs do not have specific required classes, but are instead based on a single large project known as a dissertation. In order to be eligible for the PhD, students must pass an extensive exam that covers all of the material they learned in undergraduate and graduate school. If the student passes the exam, they may submit a dissertation proposal.
If the dissertation proposal is accepted, they must complete the dissertation and be prepared to successfully defend it. Doctoral candidates are usually required to complete at a least one-year residency. During this time they must find funding (usually external funding) for their dissertation research.
The dissertation can be on any topic the candidate wishes. Since the range of available topics is very broad, doctoral candidates can choose a subject important to them, in a field in which they believe they can make a difference. It is important that the candidate picks a topic in which they excel, as dissertations are lengthy undertakings. Dissertations are not just designed to earn a degree; they are valid forms of research conducted by experts at the top of their profession.
As production moves overseas and the parts involved in assembling products come from all over the globe, the opportunity for travel is great in the field of systems engineering. While travel can often be exhausting, it also helps the engineer broaden their horizons and achieve a better understanding of how to integrate things into a cohesive system.
Some examples of the roles systems engineers might play in a variety of industries include:
Petroleum Systems Engineer: These engineers seek out oil and gas deposits, then coordinate how to extract, store, and transport the materials in an environmentally friendly way. Petroleum systems engineers are engaged in every activity an oil company is engaged in, overseeing the drilling, processing, and equipment maintenance. These specialists are constantly on the lookout for ways of making the process more efficient, cleaner, or safer.
Industrial Systems Engineer: With a focus on solving problems in industrial systems, the industrial systems engineer finds ways of streamlining a process, making it more cost-effective. They also focus on making the production floor a safer place to work. They must understand the mechanics, physics, and chemistry behind all kinds of machines, while designing solutions for problems. In addition, these specialists must communicate their recommendations to everyone from the Board of Directors to the other engineers on the project.
Environmental Systems Engineer: As society raises more environmental concerns, the demand for systems engineers who have a strong feeling of social responsibility and an understanding and concern for nature grows. Fields ranging from waste disposal, wastewater treatment, water purification, and emissions utilize environmental systems engineers. These jobs are often in the public utilities sector. These specialists are very well respected because of the social agendas they promote.
Software Systems Engineer: Getting computers on different platforms to work together and communicate can be a frustrating task. This is where software systems engineers come in. They create software that will not only work on as many operating systems as necessary, but will also communicate effectively with other operating systems in the industry. Often, these specialists must bridge the communication gaps between suppliers and customers. These engineers also create software for specific industries in order to regulate or control certain processes, such as an assembly line or quality control facility.
Electronic Systems Engineer: These engineers work in all sorts of electronics industries, including telecommunications, microelectronics, and robotics. They are involved in everything, including the design, implementation, operation and maintenance of new systems. These systems range from the automated production of a product to the regulation of company's information network.
The law does not specifically require systems engineers to be licensed, but it does make looking for a job much easier. If you are working for the government, then you need to be a licensed engineer, and other states have regulations concerning what sorts of jobs only licensed engineers can take. Therefore, it is best to get licensed in your state, if possible. Licensure regulations also vary from state to state, and students can learn their state's exact requirements through their school's career counseling program.
In general, licensure usually consists of passing an exam. Before taking the exam, the engineer must first have earned a specific minimum number of years experience working as an engineer. If the engineer is fresh out of college, they can register for pre-licensure certification. Once they have gained the required work experience, they can apply for actual licensure.
There are also a number of trade and professional associations for engineers that can help those in the field to network and to share ideas. These organizations offer seminars, luncheons, and job fairs, so engineers can explore their options and keep current on what is happening in their profession.
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