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Few machines are designed without the expertise of a mechanical engineer. Employed in a variety of industries, mechanical engineers can be found developing aerospace prototypes, analyzing automotive test results or using computer-aided design (CAD) in manufacturing. There are plenty of opportunities for experienced, qualified professionals throughout the branches of engineering. However, the sheer number of roles in the mechanical engineering field can sometimes make it challenging to plot a career path.

The University of Texas at Austin offers two 100% online engineering programs: the Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and the Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate. Designed for working mechanical engineers, either of these programs can help you accelerate your career, regardless of your industry. Let’s explore some of the branches of engineering to see where your skills, talents and expertise will be most appreciated.

Thermal Engineering

Thermal engineering deals with thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat (thermal energy) transfer. Heat transfer, the mechanisms that convey energy and entropy between physical systems, is an especially important concept for mechanical engineers to master. Household amenities such as HVAC systems, refrigerators and kettles all rely on energy management. The significance of thermal engineering goes beyond household appliances, however. The manufacturing of virtually any product is dependent on the application of thermal engineering principles.

Thermal engineers earn an average annual salary of $103,096 a year, with the highest earners bringing in as much as $188,500 a year. Our goal at the Cockrell School of Engineering is to ensure that working professionals like yourself are given every available advantage to reach their full career potential. Heat Transfer in Industrial Systems, Fluid Mechanics in Industrial Processes and Applied Thermodynamics are a few of our master’s degree courses that touch on mechanical engineering concepts essential in the field of thermal engineering. Our courses instill the knowledge and skills you need to solve heat energy problems, whether or not your career is in thermal engineering. 

Manufacturing Engineering

Manufacturing engineering focuses on improving industrial production. Manufacturing engineers are experts in producing items and improving processes and product designs. From behind a computer screen or on the factory floor, these professionals oversee the manufacturing process by solving production problems, utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) software or performing cost-benefit analysis. For their efforts, manufacturing engineers (or plant engineers) earn an average yearly salary of $70,739 according to PayScale.

Professionals in either of our 100% online engineering programs have the opportunity to enroll in Statistical Methods for Process Control and Manufacturing; Modeling, Simulation, and Control of Physical Systems; and Introduction to Automatic Control. Designed with working professionals in mind, these courses help students expand their knowledge of the control and optimization of systems. Course content will familiarize students with emerging technologies and ensure their skill set remains relevant and prized in the manufacturing industry.

Automotive Engineering

Designing and developing power-producing machines has been a major part of mechanical engineering since the invention of the steam engine. Automotive engineering centers around the designing, testing and production of vehicles and vehicle components, including engine, fuel and safety systems. Experts in this field not only design vehicles but also ensure that they’re operating as intended. Requiring experience in research, design and production, this branch of mechanical engineering rewards well-rounded engineers with high-paying careers. Automotive engineers earn an average of $78,403 a year.

Automotive engineers, like so many other mechanical engineers, are able to accomplish more when they are part of a diverse team of professionals and work effectively within that team. Throughout our 100% online engineering master’s degree and certificate programs, students are given numerous opportunities to collaborate with the Texas Engineers within their cohort. Group discussions and online tools foster a supportive learning environment, and courses like our Product Design Lab ensure that students are given the instruction they need to advance their careers, regardless of where their professional path takes them.

Petroleum Engineering  

Texas accounted for 43% of the United States’ crude oil production in 2020, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about this branch of engineering. It should come as no surprise that a significant number of petroleum engineers (34%) are employed by oil and gas extraction companies. Like other engineers, these professionals are concerned with analyzing problems, designing equipment and improving processes — their focus just happens to be below ground.

Forbes predicts that three trends will dominate the oil and gas industry in the next couple of years and beyond, as companies strive to get ahead in today’s energy market. These trends are:

  • Lower costs
  • Lower carbon emissions
  • Lower risks

To meet the challenges presented by industry trends, oil and gas companies need innovative, collaborative engineers. Professionals will be expected to find increasingly innovative, unconventional methods for extracting fossil fuels, such as using nonvertical wells to target pockets of oil. 

Take the Next Step on Your Career Path at UT Austin

We’ve touched on only a handful of mechanical engineering branches, but it’s apparent that opportunities abound for professionals, especially for those who remain abreast of the latest trends and technologies. UT Austin offers two 100% online mechanical engineering programs that impart practical, up-to-date knowledge directly applicable to engineering careers. Our programs are:

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Ranked among the top engineering programs in the country, this master’s degree program imparts the technical knowledge and skills professionals need to become leaders and innovators.

Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate

This newly launched graduate certificate program is ideal for engineers of all levels, especially working professionals in the energy industry who are interested in expanding their knowledge of the control and optimization of processes and systems.

Interested in taking the next step on your career path? Apply to one of UT Austin’s 100% online mechanical engineering programs to explore the branches of engineering and your future within them.


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