Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

What Can I Do with a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

5 minute read

In the realm of applied sciences, Mechanical Engineering stands as the versatile cornerstone, translating theoretical principles into tangible innovations. A degree in mechanical engineering is a gateway to a world where creativity meets precision, and problem-solving is an everyday endeavor. 

As a testament to the versatility of a Mechanical Engineering degree, my own journey began with a master’s degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. Today, I hold the role of a Principal Nuclear Engineer at a private company specializing in nuclear fusion technology. The career path from mechanical engineering to nuclear fusion engineering is a testament to the breadth and adaptability that this degree offers.

It provides a broad enough direction to explore an array of career possibilities. For instance, mechanical engineers are crucial in designing components and pushing technological advancements as project engineers. In the energy domain, they contribute to the development of sustainable technologies in mechanical systems, such as nuclear power plants, wind turbines or solar panels. These are just a few examples that highlight the expansive reach of a mechanical engineering degree.

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This article will explore the myriad paths that unfold with a mechanical engineering degree, spanning industries like aerospace engineering, robotics, manufacturing, and even entrepreneurship. It will highlight the technical and analytical skills honed by mechanical engineers, emphasizing their pivotal role in shaping the future across various mechanical engineering jobs. The exploration will extend to the invaluable soft skills, such as communication and problem-solving, that are integral to the success of mechanical engineers in their professional journeys. 

Manufacturing and Production

One of the most direct paths for mechanical engineering graduates is a career in manufacturing. From automotive and aerospace to consumer goods, mechanical engineers play a crucial role in designing and optimizing production processes. They ensure the efficiency and quality of manufacturing operations, contributing to the creation of products that shape our daily lives. For further insights into manufacturing, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) provides valuable resources and networking opportunities

Automotive Engineer

The automotive industry is a natural fit for mechanical engineers. From designing components to optimizing fuel efficiency and safety features, mechanical engineers in this field are at the forefront of technological advancements in the automotive sector. Stay updated on the latest in automotive engineering through the Society of Automotive Engineers

Energy and Renewable Resources

Mechanical engineers contribute significantly to the energy sector, working on the design and optimization of energy systems. With the growing emphasis on renewable energy, mechanical engineers play key roles in the development of wind turbines, solar panels, and other sustainable technologies. Organizations like the Institution of Mechanical Engineers offer resources and events for energy engineer professionals in the field.

Aerospace Engineer

For those with a passion for the mechanical design of flight and space exploration, aerospace engineering is an exciting avenue. Mechanical engineers in this field work on designing aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the skies and beyond. For example, after I graduated with my Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering degree, my first job was at Honeywell Aerospace in Florida, designing and testing electronic components for things that go into outer space, like satellites, lunar landers, and Mars rovers!

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Robotics Engineer

In the era of automation, mechanical engineers are essential in designing and implementing robotic systems. From manufacturing plants to healthcare and beyond, mechanical engineers contribute to the development of robots that enhance efficiency and perform tasks deemed hazardous or tedious for humans. Mechanical Engineers also work in Research and Development (R&D) to push the boundaries of technology, develop new materials, and improve existing products.

Nuclear Engineer

For students interested in energy, mechanical engineering opens up a fascinating avenue into the nuclear world. Mechanical engineers can actively contribute to the design and maintenance of nuclear power plants, ensuring the safe and efficient generation of nuclear energy. Personally, my journey as a Principal Nuclear Engineer in the fusion industry was shaped by the principles I learned during my Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering degree at Princeton University.

During my time at Princeton, I was deeply involved in Princeton's Science and Global Security Program. This program has a noble aim—to create a safer world by working towards reducing the number of nuclear weapons globally. Engaged in cutting-edge research, our projects ranged from developing advanced robots used for nuclear facility inspections to simulating nuclear war scenarios. These simulations aimed to understand the potential consequences of US and Russian nuclear arsenals, explore different war plans, and evaluate choices about maintaining and modernizing nuclear delivery systems. We even challenged the utility of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) by simulating nuclear exchanges involving a U.S. arsenal, both with and without ICBMs. 

As part of the team, mechanical engineers played a crucial role. We were involved in developing realistic models and simulations for these scenarios, and our skills were put to use in creating robots designed to assist with nuclear inspections. This hands-on experience showcased how mechanical engineering technology skills could be applied to critical global issues, offering practical solutions in the pursuit of a safer world. While I was there, I also worked on a few super cool projects, listed here. Feel free to reach out if you are interested in learning more, or have any questions! 

Other: Consulting, Project Management, or Entrepreneurship

Some mechanical engineers opt for roles in consulting or project management. They may work for engineering consulting firms, offering expertise on a diverse range of projects, or take on leadership roles in managing engineering projects from conception to completion.

Many professional engineers choose to start their own engineering firms or venture into product development. The ability to innovate and solve real-world problems positions mechanical engineers as catalysts for technological entrepreneurship.

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Conclusion: Engineering the Future

A mechanical engineering degree is not a blueprint but a blueprint maker, providing the tools to shape the future. Whether designing sustainable energy solutions, innovating in the aerospace industry, or contributing to advancements in healthcare, mechanical engineers are the architects of progress. The pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree is not just an academic journey; it is an invitation to engineer the possibilities of tomorrow. 

If you are still interested in this path, the LinkedIn Mechanical Engineering Community is a good place to lurk. Joining professional groups allows any Mechanical Engineer to connect with peers, stay up to date on industry trends, and explore all the diverse career opportunities that exist out there for MechEs.