Are engineers considered scientists? Some people would classify engineers as scientists. While others will adamantly say they’re not.
So, the answer will swing depending on who you ask.
To try and get a definite answer, we’ll answer this question using some logic. This way we can better pin down a single answer.
To start, let’s first define a scientist and engineer.
Who is a scientist?
Scientists answer questions we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives.
They use scientific research and evidence to form a hypothesis. Then, they test their hypothesis through experimentation and/or observation.
If the outcome doesn’t match their prediction, they go back to the drawing board. They then form a new hypothesis.
A scientist’s goal is to advance knowledge in a particular subject matter. In other words, to create new knowledge through discovery.
For example, searching to find out why and how something works.
Who is an engineer?
Engineers solve real-world problems, making our lives more awesome.
They invent, design, build, and maintain various things. 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
Today, there aren’t any limits to being an engineer and scientist. Both professions have their hands dirty in many different roles.
So, the work under the engineer and scientist titles aren’t completely independent.
An engineer may do some scientific study from time to time. While a scientist may do some engineering work here and there.
Depending on the industry you’re in and the job you have, overlaps will exist. In other words, in some lines of work, an engineer and scientist can be interchangeable.
So, what’s the best way to define someone to answer this question?
It comes down to what you do for the most part of your working day. That’s how we’re going to answer this question.
If you’re studying how best to transfer power wirelessly, you’re probably a scientist. If you’re designing substations using existing technology, you’re probably an engineer.
I want to point out though, engineering clearly requires a good amount of creativity. But so does scientific work.
Experimental design and coming up with an initial hypothesis requires creativity. What’s more, a lot of the time, you need to explain things without direct observation.
Are engineers considered scientists?
Engineers can be scientists. But as we learned, it depends on the role of the engineer.
For starters, engineering roles include all the following types of work:
- Operations and maintenance
Then there are countless sub-fields in each role. So you can’t lump all engineers in the same bucket no matter how hard you try.
To point out, a scientist does a lot of research. At the same time, they use the scientific method in some form a lot.
The thing is, some engineers rigorously use the scientific method a lot too. Sure, most use it to advance their own engineering laws and theories. So it’s not used to advance the scientific law itself.
BUT, there are engineers who do work to advance scientific law.
This is one of those instances where engineering will overlap with science.
What’s more, both fields heavily depend on one another. Engineers help design amazing instruments for scientists to use.
Look no further than the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Without a doubt, advancements in physics heavily relied on engineers building the LHC.
While discoveries by physicists unlock new knowledge for engineers to play with. Most all the cool laws applied in engineering came from some very smart scientists.
Then there’s the occasion where an engineer works “disguised” as a scientist? The engineer discovers new knowledge for engineers.
Yes, sounds confusing!
But this confusion just shows how intertwined these two professions are.
The versatility of engineers
Clearly, the role of engineers today isn’t black and white. An engineering degree is beyond versatile as we’ve learned by now.
I compare the versatility of engineers to NBA players of today.
In the 1970s, if you stood above 6’8″ tall, you’d only play either forward or center. You’d post up near the basket for easy shots. At the same time, a coach benched you if you dribbled too much or took long shots.
But today, 6’10” tall players can play all positions. In fact, it’s how you get the big bucks in the league today.
These players bring the ball up the court to distribute, and some live on the 3-point line. While others shoot 3-pointers from the logo.
Engineers have the same level of versatility. You can work as a scientist, do marketing, sales, and so much more.
Do I think engineers are considered scientists?
I think anyone who researches and tries to understand how something works is a scientist. Not to forget, they search for answers while following the scientific method.
Thus, a scientist focuses on unknowns. While an engineer focuses on the knowns.
As we learned though, engineering is a very broad profession.
So some engineers fall under this ‘researcher’ label, focusing on unknowns. For example, engineers who do R&D work.
These engineers work in labs pushing technology forward as they search for answers. They want to understand all the nuances of their field.
I classify these people as real-world scientists. No different than the Scottish physician Alexander Fleming.
Mr. Fleming invented penicillin!
The same logic applies to engineers who pursue a PhD in academia. They do research to discover something new in their field.
For example, today, many engineers are researching how to advance rocket engineering.
Do I consider myself a scientist?
No. The thought has never even once crossed my mind.
Frankly, trades have become too interwoven today. So, I don’t even like solely using the “engineer” label either.
Regardless, I do research from time to time as I try to solve problems. But, I’m not trying to discover something novel.
For example, trying to crack nuclear fusion.
Rather, I’m applying science to figure out solutions to real-world problems. In other words, I’m figuring out how to put existing puzzle pieces together to build something.
I’m not creating any new puzzle pieces though.
BUT, I do use the scientific method to solve problems from time to time. I don’t dive deep into my hypotheses that don’t work though.
I have some scientist friends who’d rip me for this. Because a scientist would try to flip every stone, to explain why something doesn’t work. They do this before they even try another method to crack the problem.
That said, in these instances, I get how some engineers like to paint themselves as scientists. But, they still, label themselves as engineers by trade.
In short, I think it comes down to whether you want to learn everything you possibly can about a topic. Or, just learn enough where you can do something practical with your knowledge.
But what’s awesome today is, depending on your job role, you can do both!
Important Note: most engineers “apply” the information that’s given to them. For example, what they find and learn in textbooks.
Now, a lot of the information in these textbooks does come from engineering research. Where engineering research is just another form of research. Not too different than scientific research.
“Are engineers considered scientists?” wrap up
It all comes down to your role in your work. In our classification, it depends on the type of work you do more of in your working day. Simple as that!
But when describing a given task, you can classify it accordingly. Whether you’re doing engineering or scientific work.
In the end, don’t limit yourself to a given title. Nowhere does it say you can’t look for new knowledge, while also building things.
Or better yet, be an engineer by day, and a scientist by night. Both are very important disciplines, that go hand in hand!
Human progress would halt if either engineers or scientists went missing all of a sudden.
Further, this question highlights how labels are meaningless. It’s more about what you CAN do with the knowledge you have.
Are engineers considered scientists to you? Which discipline between engineering and science do you think is most important?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.