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A majority of scientists and engineers work in one of three sectors: colleges and universities, industry, or federal and state agencies. Their responsibilities range from conducting basic and applied research to designing and manufacturing new commercial products to operating and maintaining broad engineering structures.
Appreciating the direction in which professional occupations are changing, a broader picture will help you prepare more effectively. A PhD, for example, can lead to a career as an academic researcher for many students. However, more than half of Ph.D. students in science and engineering work outside of academic proportion that has gradually risen over the last two decades. Furthermore, full-time academic jobs are more difficult to come by than they were in the 1960s and 1970s when the research industry was growing at a faster pace.
When our culture evolves, so do the prospects for science and engineering careers. The end of the Cold War has reduced the federal government’s ability to support defense-related basic research. Many companies have been forced to cut costs and employees as a result of increased national and global competition. That means there are fewer qualified scientists and engineers looking for research and development jobs in universities, companies, and government laboratories than there are available positions.
Universities have undergone significant transformations. For example, there are strong societal pressures on universities to turn their focus toward teaching and undergraduate education; the number of permanent faculty positions has decreased; professors are no longer expected to retire at a certain age, and more part-time and temporary faculty are being hired. Both of these developments have an effect on universities’ ability to recruit scientists and engineers.
Simultaneously, as new technologies are developed, small and medium-sized businesses in certain fields are growing their research and development activity. Information Science, Software Design, Biotechnology, Data Processing, Environmental Engineering, Electronic Networking, Manufacturing and Computer Modeling, and Forensic Science are all benefiting from technological advancements.
Some of the government’s defense-oriented research is being redirected to environmental work, communication, intelligence, and other fields. Businesses in these and other multi-disciplinary fields are interested in recent graduates with skills in more than one discipline, particularly if they have dual master’s degrees or strong minors.
Scientists and engineers are trying to use their knowledge in new ways. Professionals in the physical sciences may find work not only in their field of study but also in a number of similar fields that value their analytical skills and reasoning abilities.
Physicists, mathematicians, and engineers, for example, are increasingly in demand in the financial sector. Demand for workers in the financial sector in 1995 accounted as per the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Graduates are being hired to write software, exploit market inefficiencies with computers, create financial models that forecast stock price volatility, and design sophisticated mathematical tools to evaluate portfolio risk.
Several intersecting developments in engineering are transforming careers. International businesses now hire workers from a variety of countries, sourcing highly qualified professionals from a global pool of talent on a project basis. Multilingual employees with a wide range of managerial and technical skills, as well as the ability to access and apply new scientific and technological expertise, are highly valued by employers. The more adaptable and mobile you are, the more prospects you’ll have and the more influence you’ll have over the direction of your career.
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