Computational science is a multidisciplinary field blending mathematics, science, engineering, and computers. Computational science engineers develop computer-based models to solve complex problems in various fields.
Developing models for complex problems is a desirable skill set in various fields. Computational engineers can likely find work in aerospace, manufacturing, healthcare, technology, and other fields.
How to Earn a Computational Science Engineer Degree
Many colleges offer a computational science and engineering degree. Students can pursue an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in the field. Some colleges also offer certificate programs in the field as well.
The computational sciences field is a multidisciplinary field that requires knowledge or familiarity with various fields. Some of the skills and backgrounds that degree seekers should have or expect to acquire include:
- Mathematics: Mathematical modeling is a fundamental part of the role of a computational science engineer. A degree seeker should have a strong mathematical foundation and the ability and willingness to take upper-level mathematics courses.
- Computer programming: Computational engineers use computers to simulate complex problems. Ideally, a candidate will have some knowledge and familiarity with programming when entering the program.
- Computer theory: Computational science and engineering involves the development of computer-based models for complex systems. This requires an in-depth understanding of computer algorithms and how they can be used to develop these models.
- Analytical reasoning: Computational science and engineering is where students will attempt to solve difficult problems and build models of complex systems. Skills and interest in analytical reasoning are essential for success.
- Communications skills: A computational engineer will work as part of a team, developing models that guide efforts in engineering and science. A computational engineering candidate must feel comfortable communicating complex topics to technical personnel who may not have the same background.
- Specialist expertise: Computational engineers develop models of complex systems, which requires an in-depth understanding of the systems they are attempting to model. Computational science and engineering programs commonly include courses in a specialty (aerospace, chemistry, medicine, etc.) that provide students with the necessary foundation to operate in their chosen field.
How to Become a Computational Science Engineer
While multiple computational science and engineering degrees are available, a post-graduate degree (master’s or doctoral) is often preferred. This is due to the wide range of subjects covered and the need for a comprehensive understanding of high-level mathematical and computing concepts.
To pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in computational science, an applicant must meet the standard criteria for an advanced technical degree. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in a related field (mathematics, computer science, engineering, etc.), the potential student will likely need to pass the GRE and provide letters of recommendation, transcripts, and other commonly required materials to be accepted.
However, a prospective computational science engineer could enter the field via a bachelor’s degree or a certification or specialization on top of an existing degree or experience. For example, a data scientist may have the analytics background required for computational engineering but may require an additional background in computing or engineering. Similarly, a computer scientist may require additional high-level mathematics training to move into computational engineering.
Computational scientists and engineers generally will specialize in a particular field as part of their education and work. This is because developing realistic models requires in-depth knowledge of the systems and problems that are being simulated. Common specializations include aerospace, chemistry, engineering, physics, and others.
What Does a Computational Engineer Do?
Computational engineers specialize in modeling complex problems and systems. This skill set is invaluable in various disciplines, including energy, aerospace, medicine, etc. The computational engineer would work as part of a team of scientists and engineers that use the models developed by the computational engineer to guide further research and development.
In their day-to-day work, computational engineers can expect to spend time gathering data, developing models, and performing simulations. They should be comfortable working with computers and have in-depth knowledge of algorithms, statistical modeling, and the field of engineering or science where they are working.
The models that a computational engineer generates vary based on their specialization. For example, an engineer working in the aerospace engineering field may simulate combustion or model crashes for spacecraft. A computational engineer working in biology and medicine may model how proteins fold or genomics. In finance, computational engineers could model derivatives pricing or corporate risk.
Computational Engineer Job Description
Computational engineers specialize in modeling complex systems, a widely sought-after skill set. This means that computational engineers often face a strong job market and have a variety of potential career paths where they can use their skills.
Computational scientists can work in various fields based upon their chosen specialization. Their skills are in high demand, creating a healthy job market and numerous growth opportunities.
Computational engineering salaries are heavily dependent on specializations within the field. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track this career field, computer and information research science, a similar field, has an average annual salary of $126,830 per year and a projected field growth of 22 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is much higher than the average. Computational engineers are likely to find even better prospects due to the strong demand for advanced modeling and simulation and their multidisciplinary skill set.
According to salary data from Comparably, the salaries of computational engineers in the US range from $100,000 to $121,248, with a median salary of $116,636. The middle 50 percent of computational engineers make $115,000, with the top 75 percent making $121,248 or more.
Potential Career Paths
Computational engineers can work in various industries because the ability to simulate and model is in wide demand. A computational engineer needs an in-depth understanding of the system they attempt to model, which often constrains workers to a particular field. However, the wide range of fields available means that a computational engineer has many choices for potential specializations.
Computational science and engineering training also provides a computational engineer with the foundations necessary to pursue various career paths. Computational engineers have high-level mathematical knowledge, an understanding of computer programming, and experience in analytic thinking and model development. Potential career paths include (but are not limited to) applied mathematics, computer programming, and data science.
According to the University of Texas (whose undergraduate computational engineering program is still relatively young and the only one of its sort in the United States), their students have found work in different tech-related industries, such as the aerospace and medical fields, among others. Some were hired by firms like CACI International Inc, Capital One, Epic Systems Corporation, Lockheed Martin Corporation, METECS, Microsoft, Oden Institute for Computational Engineering & Sciences, Procter & Gamble, Southwest Research Institute, and the Texas Advanced Computing Center.
Getting Started in Computational Engineering
The multidisciplinary and highly technical nature of computational engineering means that an advanced degree is the primary means an applicant can enter the field. However, individuals with related skill sets may be able to find roles after seeking a certificate or lower-level degree that enables them to close any significant knowledge gaps.