Are Engineers Considered Scientists? Yes and No!

Are engineers considered scientists? Some would classify engineers as scientists, while others will adamantly say they’re not.

To try and pin a definite answer, we’ll break down what it is to be a scientist and engineer.

Who is a scientist?

Scientists answer the questions we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives. I’m sure you’ve asked the following questions before:

  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why is the gravity less on the Moon versus Earth?
  • Why do we dream?

To answer these questions, scientists do the following:

  1. Make an observation, which describes a problem
  2. Create a hypothesis
  3. Test the hypothesis
  4. Draw conclusions and refine the hypothesis

This in a nutshell is the scientific method. And the end result is the advancement of knowledge in a particular subject matter. In other words, creating new knowledge through discovery.

Who is an engineer?

Engineers solve real-world problems, making our lives more awesome. They invent, design, and build and maintain everything around you. Think of airplanes, smartphones, cars, mass-produced foods, and so much more. And for the most part, engineers use science and math principles in real-world applications. They find creative economical solutions to real-world challenges.

Overlaps in engineering and scientific work in the 21st century

scientists working in lab

Both engineers and scientists have their hands dirty in many different roles. And the work under each title isn’t independent of one another. For example, an engineer may do some scientific research from time to time. While a scientist may do some engineering work here and there.

So depending on the industry you’re in and the job you have, overlaps will exist. In fact, in some lines of work, an engineer and scientist can be interchangeable.

Are engineers considered scientists? 

The answer defaults to your work scope. In other words, what do you do for the most part of your working day? If you study how to best transfer power wirelessly, you’re probably a scientist. If you design wireless infrastructure using existing tech, then you’re probably an engineer.

What’s more, the two types of work have many similarities and are deeply woven together. For starters, scientific work requires a very creative mind. You need to come up with an experimental design and hypotheses. Even more, a lot of the time, you need to explain results without any direct observations. Now surprising to many, engineering requires a good amount of creativity too. It’s why I compare engineers to Mozart.

Next, everyone knows scientists use the scientific method. But not many people know engineers use the scientific method too. This is because engineers rarely use the scientific method to advance scientific law. Instead, they use it to advance their own engineering laws and theories. Regardless, they’re both using the same toolset.

Finally, both engineers and scientists rely on one another, showing their interdependency. Look no further than the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The most recent advancements in physics relied on engineers building the LHC. On the flipside, discoveries by physicists unlocked knowledge for design engineers to use.

The point is, it’s not a stretch for a person to flip-flop between engineering and scientific work.

Important Note: most engineers “apply” the information given to them. This is information they learn in textbooks, sourced from engineering research. And engineering research is just another form of research, similar to scientific research.

The versatility of engineers

Clearly, the role of engineers today isn’t black and white. An engineering degree is beyond versatile today. I compare the versatility of engineers to today’s NBA players.

In the 1970s, if you stood above 6’8″ tall, you’d either play forward or center. So you’d post up with your back to the basket for easy shots. At the same time, a coach would bench you if you dribbled too much or took long shots.

Today, 6’8″ tall players can play all positions, and they demand the highest salaries. These players bring the ball up the court to distribute, and some even live on the 3-point line. The point is, engineers have the same level of versatility today. You can work as a scientist, do marketing, sales, and so much more.

Do I think engineers are considered scientists?

spacex falcon heavy landing
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Landing (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

I define a scientist as someone who focuses on unknowns. And an engineer is someone who focuses on knowns. So, anyone who researches to understand how something works is a scientist. Of course, they must use the scientific method.

Now as we learned, engineering is a very broad profession. So some engineers fall under this ‘researcher’ label, as they focus on unknowns. For example, engineers who do R&D work, driving technology forward. These engineers are full-blown real-world scientists to me. They’re no different than the Scottish physician Alexander Fleming. If you’re unfamiliar, Mr. Fleming invented penicillin!

As another example, I consider many engineers who pursue a PhD in academia to be scientists. They do research to discover something new in their field of work.

Do I consider myself a scientist?

As an engineer on paper, I don’t classify myself as a scientist. To point out though, I don’t like labeling myself as an engineer either. Because all the trades have become too interwoven today.

All in all, I do research from time to time as I solve problems. But, I’m not trying to discover anything novel. For example, I’m not working to crack the solution to nuclear fusion. Rather, I’m figuring out how to put existing puzzle pieces together to build something.

So when I do research, I loosely use the scientific method. This means rarely deep diving into my failing hypotheses. And I know, some scientists would rip into me for this. Because they, flip every stone, to understand why something doesn’t work. Only then, they try another method to crack a problem. In my line of work though, this level of deep diving isn’t necessary.

In short, I’m more of an “engineer” than a “scientist.”

“Are engineers considered scientists?” wrap up

The answer defaults to the type of work you do. Are you learning everything you possibly can about a topic? Or, just learning enough to do something practical with your knowledge?

Surprisingly to many, you can do both engineering and scientific work. Because nowhere does it say you can’t seek knowledge while building things. And the notion your title on paper dictates what you can do, is ridiculous. Your abilities are the deciding factor of what you can do.

Are engineers considered scientists to you? Do you think engineers rely on scientists more, or vice versa?

SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox

Leave a Comment