In this post, we take a look at the types of academic research jobs in mechanical engineering, typical career paths in the sector and opportunities for progression.
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest research fields in the Engineering and Technology sector. From improving global healthcare through the development of new technologies to finding mechanised solutions to supply chain and environmental challenges, mechanical engineering researchers contribute to some of the world’s most exciting breakthroughs.
After completing a first degree or MEng in mechanical engineering and a PhD in an area related to the research field you wish to pursue, you will need to look for jobs in universities, research institutes or industry which match your field of expertise.
The traditional entry route for aspiring researchers is to apply for research assistant or postdoctoral research jobs. You’ll find that most research jobs in mechanical engineering are project and funding driven and are offered on a temporary, fixed-term contract basis. This means you will need to apply for further research jobs on the completion of short-term projects.
After gaining experience and collaborating with other researchers to publish outcomes, you could choose to combine your research with teaching duties in a mechanical engineering lecturing role or apply for a research fellowship. Promotion would depend on the successful completion of a number of research projects.
Working as a Mechanical Engineering Researcher
Mechanical engineering research is almost limitless, so if you’re looking at an academic career in this field, you’ll find a wide range of research opportunities to match your expertise and interests.
Popular mechanical engineering research areas include:
- Mechatronics, robotics
- Micro and Nanotechnology
- Manufacturing processes
- Biomedical technology and engineering
- Infrastructure and sustainable engineering
- Aerodynamics and fluid mechanics
Your research path and the positions you apply for will be influenced by the area of mechanical engineering you choose to specialise in. However, it’s worth noting that regardless of the specialism, most employers require mechanical engineering researchers to have in-depth knowledge of using advanced computational aided design tools (e.g., 3D CAD (SolidWorks) or MATLAB).
The day-to-day life of a mechanical engineering researcher depends on the type of project you’re involved in. You may be collaborating with other researchers in a university laboratory, workshop or design facility or you could be teaming up on a project with researchers in the commercial sector.
Universities are keen to promote links between their research staff and students, so roles may also include some ad hoc teaching and workshop demonstration.
Most research posts are structured as follows:
- Creating and conducting experiments in a laboratory or technical environment
- Data analysis and publication of results
- Collaborating with scientists and engineers in universities, industry and research institutes around the world
- Working within multi-disciplinary teams to design, test and develop technology
- Drawing up research proposals and applying for funding
- Carrying out practical demonstrations for undergraduate and postgraduate students
Where to find jobs
Academic jobs in engineering can be competitive and you’ll need to demonstrate successful research outcomes, knowledge and methodology in your field of mechanical engineering. Having some teaching experience will also give you the edge.
Mechanical engineering research jobs are available in universities, research and development facilities and industries around the world, particularly in the States, Germany and the UK.
As research is funding-dependent, availability of jobs is linked to the current research focus and activities of each university or research institute. Mechanical engineering research is often funded in collaboration with industry so this should also be a consideration in where you look for jobs.
You can find out more about how mechanical engineering research and development is funded in the UK and how projects might fit your background and knowledge at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
If you choose to work as a researcher at a university, here are some of the roles you may come across during your search:
- Postdoctoral researcher/assistant
- Research technician/mechanical workshop technician
- Research Fellow or Associate
- Research Software Engineer
- Senior research associate/fellow
- Mechanical Engineering lecturer
If you’re interested in applying for research jobs in mechanical engineering and are looking for advice about how to showcase your skills, take a look at our CV Tips and Advice section.
Find mechanical engineering research jobs here.
Salaries in engineering research vary depending on the field and specific research activities of the university. However, as a general rule, postdoctoral researchers and research associates can expect to start on a salary of around £30,000 to £39,999 p.a.
If you’re just finishing your undergraduate or Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, you may be considering doing a PhD in a specialist field. Doctoral research is ideal for engineering graduates who are looking towards an academic career or those who wish to discover more about a specific field before embarking on a career in industry.
There is a wide range of PhD studentships available in mechanical engineering. A PhD takes around 3-5 years to complete; most are fully funded and come with a stipend in the range of £15,000 and £17,000 p.a.
You can find current PhD studentships in fields related to mechanical engineering here.
- Academic Jobs in Mechanical Engineering
- Lecturing Jobs in Mechanical Engineering
- Senior-Level Jobs in Mechanical Engineering
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