Is becoming a nuclear engineer right for me?

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What do nuclear engineers do?
Career Satisfaction
Are nuclear engineers happy with their careers?
What are nuclear engineers like?

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How to become a Nuclear Engineer

Entry-level nuclear engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Bachelor's degree programs typically are four-year programs and encompass classroom, laboratory, and field studies in areas that include mathematics and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain experience while completing their education. Some universities offer five-year programs leading to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

A graduate degree allows a nuclear engineer to work as an instructor at a university or engage in research and development. Some five-year or even six-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Nuclear engineers who work for nuclear power plants are not required to be licensed. However, they are eligible to seek licensure as professional engineers. Those who become licensed carry the designation of professional engineer (PE). Licensure is recommended and generally requires the following:

  • A degree from an accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

Beginning nuclear engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning nuclear engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, nuclear engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become engineering managers or move into managerial positions or sales work. Nuclear engineers have the background needed to become medical physicists, who work in the relatively new field of nuclear medicine. A master’s degree is necessary for an engineer to enter this field.