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Ask the Expert: Education

Continuing education

A. You can do a lot of industrial engineering work with just a B.S. degree, but it is not uncommon for many working industrial engineers and managers to get an M.S. in IE or an M.B.A. The M.B.A. really helps if you decide to pursue a career in management. Other advanced degree options sometimes include getting a second B.S. degree or an M.S. degree in another technical area. The Ph.D. is usually reserved for those that wish to do pure research, applied research or teach at the university level.

Unless you have already planned to do a double major as an undergraduate (a B.S. in IE while at the same time working on a B.S. in mechanical engineering or some other joint major), it is best to re-evaluate the M.S. or Ph.D. decision during your junior or senior year. By that time your interests and future plans may be more developed, and you will have learned more of the types of academic pursuits that interest you. I strongly encourage internship or co-op work in your field during your junior or senior year. Even though this can delay graduation a little, it is very beneficial to supplementing your academic education with some real work experience.

Some IE specialties may require an M.S. or Ph.D.: advanced ergonomics and human factors, advanced operations research and advanced systems modeling. You should learn more about these during your undergraduate degree and from doing some career investigation and counseling with your IE professors and maybe also from your school’s placement office.

Many companies will pay for all or some of your M.S. courses if done off-hours at night or by Internet.

Stephen Snelling

Higher education

A: Many engineering fields feed into industrial engineering graduate programs because as engineers work up their respective corporate ladders, they are generally faced with decisions addressed in an industrial engineering curriculum: resource allocation, scheduling, and operations management. For example, chemical engineers may graduate and go to work in a chemical production facility to oversee some chemical process. In that line of work, they may be exposed to numerous issues, such as quality control or work force scheduling, which will lead them to graduate studies in industrial engineering.

It also stands to reason that many industrial engineers go on to graduate studies in industrial engineering -- although they may specialize in operations research or human factors.

As for other fields that industrial engineers may pursue, they are numerous. Those interested in manufacturing processes or systems may study mechanical or manufacturing engineering (or industrial engineering). Those who have interests in transportation or traffic may continue to study industrial engineering, or find similar programs in civil, transportation, or even environmental engineering. Those interested in algorithmic development, data mining, or databases may study computer science or computer engineering. Of course, the limits are not relegated to engineering.

Those interested in dealing with people may study management or psychology, while those interested in monetary issues may study economics or finance.

Joseph Hartman, Ph.D., P.E.

What's utilization

A: Utilization: The proportion of the system's resources used by the traffic that arrives at it.

Optimization: The procedure or procedures used to make a system or design as effective or functional as possible, especially the mathematical techniques involved.

Utilization is a measure of efficiency. Optimization reflects the quality of that use.

Larry Aft, P.E.

Intern dilemma

A: You are in a tough spot; nevertheless, the following are some thoughts to consider.

Meet with whoever will evaluate your performance and negotiate a reduction in the scope of your work. From your description of the situation, it seems like your employer has no concept of what you have been asked to do. On the other hand, it could be a test. Yes, believe it or not, sometimes we are asked the impossible just to see how we react. It is our job to manage the situation we find ourselves in. If you go this route, be ready to propose what you can do with the time you have. For instance, try to find out what the most time-consuming component is (in terms of human labor) and choose that component as the area you will focus on and complete before the end of your internship. The bottom line: Be ready to propose what you can complete with high-quality output in the time you have available on and off the job.

Ask your contacts in the firm and the workers whether there are any documents that you could use as a starting point. Many times, material exists, but it is not up to date. But such material can provide a way to jumpstart a project such as yours.

With regard to video recording equipment, does your university have equipment you could borrow? If you do use equipment of this type, be sure to work with management to inform employees before you show up with a camera. Be advised that if the work force is unionized, the time it will take to negotiate this may not be worth it.

Neal Schmeidler

Distance degree

A: I know of no B.S. IE degrees that are offered at a distance because of ABET accreditation requirements. No one has found a way to offer laboratories for undergraduates online. There are more than 85 B.S. engineering programs nationwide, with many evening or late afternoon programs that might work for you.

Timothy J.  Greene, Ph.D. 

Global engineer

A: What you need to do depends on what you want to do. If you are looking for a job here, you need to convince potential employers that your education is essentially equivalent to an industrial engineering bachelor's degree earned in the United States. You might do this by attaching an English version of your college transcripts together with a resume that shows your work experience.

If you would like to become licensed as a professional engineer in the United States, the process is more complicated. You first need to pick a state where you want to obtain the license. Most states require a bachelor of science degree in engineering, and you might be able to convince the state board of engineering examiners in the state where you want to live that your bachelor's degree is equivalent to one given in their state. Then you must take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, an eight-hour test on the fundamentals of engineering and upper-level topics in some area of engineering. Then you must take and pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination, an eight-hour test in your chosen field of engineering. Before you take this, however, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have had four years of practical experience in engineering beyond your bachelor's degree.

You can find more information on the professional engineering examination process at www.ncees.org. 

W.J. Kennedy, Ph.D., P.E. 


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