What Does a Research Engineer Do? Duties and Qualifications

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The engineering field contains a wide variety of professionals that perform research, testing and product development. Research engineers identify issues and find solutions for engineering processes in many industries. If you're interested in pursuing a career in engineering, learning about a research engineer's role and duties may be useful for you. In this article, we answer the question, 'what does a research engineer do?' and provide details about the position, like the requirements and salary.

Related: 14 Types of Engineering Jobs (With Salary Information)

What does a research engineer do?

Defining what a research engineer does can vary greatly depending on an individual's engineering speciality. They typically work within the Research & Development department of an organisation, government agency or academic institution. Generally, research engineers develop products, processes or technology for their employers. To achieve this, they gather relevant information, data or samples, then analyse their research and perform tests to create optimal and innovative solutions. Some of the industries or fields where research engineers work include:

  • medical or health care

  • transportation

  • military

  • computer hardware and software

  • product development

  • energy, such as oil gas, renewable energy and mining

Research engineer job duties

The specific duties that research engineers complete depend on the specific engineering field that they work in. Here are some common duties and responsibilities that they may have:

  • Conduct research: They conduct research to find solutions for industry-related problems. They may use a variety of research techniques and methodologies, like performing surveys, looking into engineering journals and performing experiments.

  • Design products: They develop and design products, technology and equipment based on engineering concepts to improve functionality for engineers. They often design equipment that allows engineers to boost productivity and efficiency.

  • Build prototypes: Before finishing a design concept, research engineers often design product and system prototypes to receive feedback and identify areas of improvement. They often release the prototype to a limited market, or they may release it to management to determine necessary modifications.

  • Use engineering equipment for testing purposes: They often use engineering equipment to analyse functionality and determine areas for improvement, which they may use as the basis for future projects.

  • Use statistics to analyse data: They analyse their research findings using statistical processes and mathematical concepts. By using these processes, they may better understand their company's engineering needs.

  • Lead design and research teams: Research engineers may manage design and research teams and offer directions for projects.

  • Oversee projects: They oversee research projects to determine details like feasibility, requirements and deadlines.

  • Write grant proposals: It's common for research engineers to create grant proposals to fund research projects. They may write extensive grant proposals that contain information about a project's purpose, goals and benefits.

  • Documenting research findings: After completing a research project, they document their findings to share their research with other engineering professionals. They may share their research in a company presentation, at a seminar, in a conference or an engineering journal.

Related: How To Become an Environmental Engineer (With Career FAQs)

Research engineer requirements

Here are the requirements that you may pursue when considering a career as a research engineer:

Bachelor's degree

To become a research engineer, first, earn a bachelor's degree in engineering. Depending on the type of engineering that you want to pursue, you can major in civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or environmental engineering. During your education, you may learn various research techniques that allow you to find valuable information and understand various engineering processes. Most engineering students spend the first one to two years of their programme completing generalised engineering coursework, like mathematics and science courses that are engineering-related. After completing the fundamental courses, you may move on to specialised engineering courses.

Experience

It's useful for research engineers to have extensive experience in working on engineering projects and performing research. Consider pursuing an internship while in college that expands your experience, which may help you find a job after graduation. Speak to the administration at your school or look up engineering companies to see if they're hiring research interns. You may also look for volunteer opportunities where you can grow your research skills. For example, your college's laboratory may have a volunteer opportunity for a project researcher or data recorder.

After receiving your degree, you can apply to entry-level engineering jobs where you can expand your network and grow your skills. You may receive firsthand experience in research, experimentation and product design. Once you gain sufficient experience, you can advance into an associate engineer position.

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Graduate degree

After completing your bachelor's degree, consider pursuing a degree in higher education, like a master's in engineering or research. Obtaining a master's degree in engineering can take about one to two years to complete, while a doctorate can take two to four years. In these degree programmes, you may take on more advanced and specific coursework that relates to your engineering concentration.

An advanced degree may set you apart from other research engineers in your field. It can also offer you more experience and develop your research and engineering skills. A master's degree programme may provide you with laboratory and design experience where you can work on a variety of projects.

Skills for research engineers

Research engineers use a variety of hard skills and soft skills that allow them to lead a team and perform thorough research on engineering processes, technology and products. Here are some examples of skills they may use:

Analytical

These skills refer to your ability to observe, research and interpret concepts. Using analytical skills enables you to develop complex ideas, solutions and improvements, which is a crucial responsibility of research engineers. You can use these skills to create products, processes or technology relevant to your industry or develop improvements for existing materials.

Project management

It's important for research engineers to possess strong project management skills that may help them coordinate project timelines and meet deadlines. They may also provide their workplace with information about a project's progress, including potential setbacks or areas of improvement. Project management skills can allow them to understand all elements of a project, including labour, budget and objectives, which may help them complete a research project successfully.

Communication

Research engineers communicate their research findings with other professionals in their field, so it's important to have excellent verbal and written communication skills. They often record their findings to present in a written format, and they may use their skills to include clear and concise details. They may also use verbal communication skills when presenting information about a project or providing project directions to their team.

Related: 15 Ways on How To Communicate Effectively at the Workplace

Problem-solving

This role requires you to develop solutions to problems that your organisation may face or issues within your industry. Sometimes, you may receive assignments on what to work on, or you might identify issues yourself and work toward improving relevant processes or components of the product or system. As a research engineer, it's useful to use creativity to ask questions and look at problems from a variety of perspectives to form more innovative solutions.

Technical skills

Depending on your industry, employers may prefer you to show proficiency in its relevant tools or equipment. For example, if your role requires you to develop software or technology, you may need familiarity with particular programming languages. Usually, the specific research engineer job description informs you of the necessary technical skills that employers prefer candidates possess to perform the job successfully.

Research engineer work environment

Research engineers generally work full-time, which means at least 40 hours each week, often with the option to work overtime as needed. Depending on their engineering speciality, they can work in a variety of environments. Typically, they spend most of their time in an office or laboratory setting using tools, software and equipment relevant to their specialised field.

For example, a biomedical research engineer may work in a lab using advanced microscopes to observe and analyse chemical interactions. Meanwhile, a product research engineer may work in an office and use computer software to simulate the design and performance of a product, then write a report on their findings.

Average salary for research engineers

The average national salary for research engineers is $46,142 per year. The salary for research engineers may vary depending on location, education level, experience and skills. For example, a research engineer with a master's degree may have the chance to earn more than a research engineer with a bachelor's degree.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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