A graduate degree in engineering management – one of the highest-paying master’s degrees – is versatile and valuable. Every major discipline and subdiscipline of engineering requires skilled managers to plan and oversee projects and the engineering staff working on them. Ambitious engineers from any background can benefit from earning an engineering management master’s degree, because all engineering fields have management needs. However, if you’re planning on using an engineering management master’s degree program to chart a course in an entirely separate field of engineering, you may be disappointed.
How Engineering Management Matters in Different Fields of Engineering
Engineering managers across different disciplines of engineering perform many of the same job duties. They may, for example, plan and manage process or product development from start to finish, take a leading role in design thinking, supervise teams of engineers and engineering technologists and oversee the logistics of projects, including finances and administrative requirements.
The biggest difference between what engineering managers do in different disciplines is the type of projects they oversee. A civil engineering manager might supervise the process of constructing a bridge, a building or another type of infrastructure. An electrical engineering manager could work on projects related to electronics, computer hardware or software and electrical devices. Some fields of engineering are interdisciplinary, and so engineering managers in those areas may come from different educational backgrounds. For example, if you want to be an engineering manager who oversees the development of robotics, you could come from either an electrical engineering background or a mechanical engineering background. In either case, a graduate-level knowledge of engineering management principles and practices will help you be a better leader.
Engineers from different backgrounds often work together on research and industry projects. Some engineering managers oversee multidisciplinary teams. While you don’t necessarily need a separate degree in every branch of engineering that pertains to your project, you should have some amount of knowledge of each of the main engineering disciplines that apply to your work. At many engineering schools, undergraduate students complete a common core of engineering coursework in addition to classes in their chosen discipline. It’s important to also understand how each engineering discipline fits together and the roles of each member on your team.
The best engineering managers are able to recognize the limitations of their own expertise. When you trust your team and foster collaboration between team members, you can draw from their knowledge of engineering fields outside of your own.
Can a Master’s in Engineering Management Help You Change Career Fields?
A master’s degree in engineering management is ideal for pivoting to a leadership role in engineering – most commonly, in an area of engineering in which you already have a background. As a general rule, though, this degree path may make less sense for engineers who are eyeing a change of engineering disciplines rather than advancement to managerial positions. That’s because the curriculum of an engineering management program tends to focus on equipping students with the leadership and project management skills required of engineering project managers, engineering directors, engineering group managers or process engineering managers.
If your goal is to continue to switch engineering fields and work in an engineering capacity, rather than a management one, you might be better off looking for a master’s degree program in your intended new discipline. For example, you might apply to a master’s degree program in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering or civil engineering.
Often, graduate students in engineering use their advanced education to further specialize their knowledge. Perhaps you studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate but have decided that you want to apply your knowledge of chemical engineering practices to healthcare and the life sciences. You might choose to study bioengineering at the graduate level to develop more specialized skills and prepare yourself for bioengineering opportunities. If you went for a master’s in engineering management, instead, you would be more likely to find work in chemical engineering manager positions.
A master’s degree can improve your career opportunities and earning potential, but it’s important to think about what you want out of your graduate education before you choose a degree program.
Regarding salary, some engineering occupations have a much greater wage premium for a master’s degree than others, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.