The demand for systems engineers (the people who design and manage the production of different products) has been soaring in recent years. If you are a creative person interested in using math and science to design and develop solutions to consumer and technological needs, you might want to consider a career in systems engineering.
Dr. Maria Yang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and engineering systems at MIT (www.mit.edu), majored in mechanical engineering as an undergrad at MIT after taking a freshman seminar course that immersed her in a variety of different engineering fields. “There are a lot of choices…for people interested in engineering and science,” she said.
Students who decide to pursue systems engineering take classes such as product design which, according to Dr. Yang, teach students “how to develop consumer products, [or] things that people use.” In these classes, students develop products as a prototype in order to determine what kind of features it should have and how someone might use it.
A typical day in the field
As an assistant professor in engineering, Dr. Yang spends most of her day in front of her students. However, she also spends time working outside the classroom doing research, planning her courses and helping her team of grad students and post-doctorates with their own research projects.
Those who pursue a career as a systems engineer have to be prepared to “[figure] out how we can design things and make the process of design better,” according to Dr. Yang, “We think about things like…what users really want, what they really need and how [they] test out…ideas.”
The career outlook for systems engineers is so high because, according to Dr. Yang, “there’s a lot of interest in having innovative, high-quality, engaging, compelling products now.” Consumers now are doing research before they buy something because they want to feel like they’re making the right choice.
Dr. Yang advises future students that it’s important for them to be able to visually communicate their ideas well. “Being able to express yourself visually, either using hand-sketching, creating models or using digital programs — that’s a different way of thinking,” says Dr. Yang. In systems engineering, “it’s not just ‘I have an idea and now I’m going to make it.’”
According to CNN Money, the median annual wage for systems engineers was $88,000 as of 2010.
Laura Sestito is a senior at Nazareth College (www.naz.edu) and is a designer and writer for NextStepU Magazine.