Polymer engineering and technology is part of the growing field of materials engineering and offers several educational paths and career options. Consulting the following resources could help you determine whether studying polymers is your passion.
Polymer engineering is a sub-field of materials engineering primarily focusing on the development of new products. Polymer engineers often study plastics, although other substances are also considered polymers.
With training in polymer engineering and technology, you might work as a polymer engineer, studying plastics and other polymers at the molecular level, selecting polymers for new applications and testing or processing plastics for new products. Alternatively, you might choose less scientific and more production-based work as an engineering technician or technologist, focusing on breaking down wood, cotton, petrochemicals and other raw materials to create polymers in an industrial plant.
With a career in polymer engineering and technology, you might also work 40-hour workweek in a laboratory or office, but deadline pressure may sometimes require you to work longer hours. Polymer engineers or polymer technicians need an analytical mind, inquisitiveness, creativity and attention to detail. Good communication and teamwork skills are also important. Additionally, a strong background in math and science and a familiarity with computer science are a good foundation for an engineering education.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected job opportunities for all materials engineers to increase by nine percent from 2008-2018, about on par with the national average for all jobs (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for engineers - including those who specialize in plastics and polymers - was $83,120 as of May 2010, according to the BLS. PayScale.com reported most engineering technicians earned between $30,173 and $71,884 as of February 2012.
To become any type of engineer, you typically need a bachelor's degree in engineering. Although rather rare, bachelor's degree programs specific to polymer science and engineering are available. Bachelor's degrees in materials engineering are more common and typically also include courses in polymers. As of February 2012, ABET accredited nearly 60 4-year materials engineering programs.
Polymer engineering majors require lots of math and science courses, including polymer chemistry, physics and calculus. Core courses may include thermodynamics, statics and material strength, polymer production and technology, polymer properties, polymer analysis and polymer processing. During a capstone course, you'll create an original polymer engineering project. A general materials engineering program usually includes some of the same courses, but also covers other materials, such as ceramics and metals.
Positions in academia or research and development may require you to complete a master's or doctoral program in polymer engineering and science. These programs plan advanced coursework in polymer and materials engineering to support your original research and thesis or dissertation.
Programs in plastics and polymer engineering technology, which are also accredited by ABET, can prepare you to work as an engineering technician or technologist. You can complete your education to qualify you to work as a technician in as little as two years with an engineering technology associate degree. Completing a 4-year technology program may be required for some technologist positions.