MEs in Grad School: What's Left 2 Do?

A physics & materials friend of mine and myself (undergrad ME) were wondering what is left to study as a pure ME in grad school? If anything is left, I can only imagine the following:

a) My thermo prof worked on how combustion really works as it is not as simple as one might model with one simple thermochemistry equation, but that’s a mix of thermo + chemistry, typically organic.

b) Tensile strength of new materials, but I bet the materials engineers have us beat here, too…

c) Maybe heat transfer from new materials or today’s micro-electronics, I WAG?

d) Fluids like maybe at extreme temps, like supercooled, or something?

So, what else would be leading-edge ME research? I WAG a higher degree in ME is not too useful as opposed to a move into another technical area?

  • Jinx
    P.S. Admins: This may border on factual vs. opinion. Feel free to bump, if needed.

When I was an ME in grad school 10 years ago it seemed like almost everyone was working on finite element analysis and other kinds of computer simulation. A few people had grants from industry or the military to design specific machines or mechanisms. Ask your professors what they are working on.

Jesus, what can’t you study in more detail in grad school? :wink:

Seriously, an undergrad in Mechanical Engineering (which I have) serves only to introduce you to the fundamentals; unless you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in extracurricular study, you barely know anything beyond basic engineering priciples. In particular, areas of advanced study include computational fluids dynamics, nonlinear and digital controls theory, materials fatigue theory, micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS), aeroelasticity, systems design, adaptive systems, heuristic automation design (AI robotics, machine vision), adaptive tribology, nonlinear vibrations theory, biomechanical systems, and so forth.

Don’t get stuck on the idea of a “pure” ME degree; cross-training in another field (physics, computational science, chemistry, materials science, even biology) gives you a greater breadth of knowledge, allowing you to apply skills traditionally used in one field (say, controls theory) into a entirely seperate one (biomechanics).

Structural finite element analysis (FEA) has become rather old hat; there are plenty of very accessible commerical codes out there that permit even a moderately trained engineer to perform analysis. (Whether that makes them qualified to correctly interpret the results is another question, but I’ve found that a graduate degree is often no qualifer of that capability; such skill comes only with experience and test validation.) I wouldn’t select a graduate thesis on some aspect of FEA unless you’ve really got a novel idea.

OTOH, don’t expect any technical degree to make you wealthy, or even offer stable employment. If you want the six figure income, get yer MBA and go into management.

::sigh:: I hate giving that kind of advice.


Take a look at the website for any big research university, for example. Drill down into what the profs are working on and you’ll see the breadth of things you can do in ME. When I was in ME grad school a decade ago, there was a lot of diversity. My cohort was working on advanced computer simulations, experimental work on combustion and emissions, environmental topics like steam cleanup of contaminated soil and a whole list of other topics. While a lot of exotic bleeding-edge work was going on, there was also a lot of fundamentals. I was working on some really fundamental fluid dynamics problems, just looking in more detail than previous studies. There is a lot of fundamental physics left to be done under the umbrella of mechanical engineering.