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Engineering and Natural Sciences Managers - What They Do

Engineering and natural sciences managers plan, coordinate, and direct research, design, and production activities. They may supervise engineers, scientists, and technicians, along with support personnel. These managers use their knowledge of engineering and natural sciences to oversee a variety of activities. They determine scientific and technical goals. These goals may include improving manufacturing processes, advancing scientific research, or developing new products. Managers make detailed plans to accomplish these goals. For example, they may develop the overall concepts of a new product or identify technical problems preventing the completion of a project.

To perform effectively, these managers also must apply knowledge of administrative procedures, such as budgeting, hiring, and supervision. They propose budgets for projects and programs and determine staff, training, and equipment needs. They hire and assign scientists, engineers, and support personnel to carry out specific parts of each project. They also supervise the work of these employees, check the technical accuracy of their work and the soundness of their methods, review their output, and establish administrative procedures, policies or standardsósuch as environmental standards, for example.

In addition, engineering and natural science managers use communication skills extensively. They spend a great deal of time coordinating the activities of their unit with those of other units or organizations. They confer with higher levels of management; with financial, production, marketing, and other managers; and with contractors and equipment and materials suppliers.

Engineering managers may supervise people who design and develop machinery, products, systems, and processes. They might also direct and coordinate production, operations, quality assurance, testing, or maintenance in industrial plants. Many manage research and development teams that produce new products and processes or improve existing ones. Others are plant engineers, who direct and coordinate the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of equipment and machinery in industrial plants.

Natural sciences managers oversee the work of life and physical scientists, including agricultural scientists, chemists, biologists, geologists, medical scientists, and physicists. These managers direct research and development projects and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production. They may work on basic research projects or on commercial activities. Science managers sometimes conduct their own research in addition to managing the work of others.

Work Environment
Engineering and natural sciences managers spend most of their time in an office. Some managers, however, also may work in laboratories, where they may be exposed to the same conditions as research scientists, or in industrial plants, where they may be exposed to the same conditions as production workers. Managers tend to work long hours in order to meet project deadlines; in 2008, almost half worked over 40 hours per week. They may also experience considerable pressure to meet technical or scientific goals on a short deadline or within a tight budget.

Education & Training Required
Engineering and natural sciences managers usually advance to management positions after years of employment as engineers or scientists. Nearly all engineering managers therefore have at least a bachelorís degree in some specialty of engineering. Many also gain business management skills by completing a master's degree in engineering management (MEM) or business administration (MBA), either before or after advancing to management positions. Employers often pay for such training. In large firms, some courses required in these degree programs may be offered onsite. Typically, engineers who prefer to manage in technical areas pursue an MEM, and those interested in less technical management earn an MBA.

Similarly, since most science managers begin their careers as scientists, they may have a bachelorís, masterís or Ph.D. degree in a scientific discipline. Graduate programs allow scientists to augment their undergraduate training with instruction in other fields, such as management or computer technology. Future natural science managers interested in more technical management may earn traditional master's or Ph.D. degrees in natural sciences or master's degrees in science that incorporate business management skills. Those interested in more general management may pursue an MBA. Given the rapid pace of scientific developments, science managers must continuously upgrade their knowledge.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Engineering and natural sciences managers must be specialists in the work they supervise. To advance to these positions, engineers and scientists generally must gain experience and assume management responsibility. To fill management positions, employers seek engineers and scientists who possess administrative and communication skills in addition to technical knowledge in their specialty, since they must effectively lead groups and coordinate projects.

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