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Is a MEM Degree Worth It?

Looking to advance your career in engineering but unsure if a master's is right? Discover 3 situations where a master’s in engineering management is worth it.

Digital Civil engineer working on virtual blueprint building plan for Industry 4.0

A Master of Engineering Management (MEM) degree is an advanced degree that can help engineering professionals advance their careers, cultivate leadership skills, and increase their earning potential. Some prospective students wonder if the outcome of the degree program is worth the investment and the time needed to complete the program.

While the answer to these questions ultimately depends on where you are in your career and where you want to be, this article will explain the benefits of a Master of Engineering Management (MEM) degree. Effective MEM degree programs will focus on topics such as engineering management, leadership, project management, quality management, operations (or supply chain), product management, and ethics. For example, the Master of Engineering Management and Leadership (MEML) degree at Rice University is a MEM degree that covers key topics such as these, yet it adds a focus on educating engineers to lead in the Industry 4.0 era. Industry 4.0 refers to this current age of digital transformation, where technology products and services are being produced more intelligently and rapidly due to the convergence of the digital (data and AI), biological (human) and machine entities. It is changing the way people work and live, and how products are produced and consumed.

Traditional engineering disciplines are evolving, requiring engineers to have advanced technical skills, such as statistics, advanced math, data science and AI. In related fields such as computer science, people management and leadership credentials are just as important for software engineering managers as it is for them to understand platform development. While engineers have essential skills that transfer easily to business management – such as problem-solving, attention to detail, economic analysis, and technical knowledge – they also need to know how to blend human leadership with engineering management and have a working knowledge of advanced I4 technologies, such as 3D printing, digital twins, the Internet of Things (IoT), and augmented/mixed reality.

The MEML@Rice degree program delivers a robust learning experience to engineers who want to complement their engineering bachelor’s degrees or work experience. Admitted students will learn important business and financial skills and have the opportunity to master new data science and computer science skills, which are essential for leading today’s diverse teams of engineers. The program is designed to help working engineers gain the knowledge and confidence necessary to lead in the Industry 4.0 workplace where engineers' skills are needed to respond to business and technical challenges and transform processes for innovation among diverse teams.

Engineers are becoming increasingly involved in the creation of new ideas, products, platforms, and services and other aspects that affect society. As a result, companies want to hire a new breed of engineering managers who have the ability to use and develop data-enabled technology to help them transform into the new era. The MEML@Rice program, in particular, can help current working professionals upskill in IoT and Industry 4.0 technologies like autonomous robotics, machine learning, and simulation-based engineering.

Here are three situations where it may be worth pursuing a MEM degree:

1. You Want to Advance Your Current Career Path

2. You Want to Increase Your Salary

3. You Want to Continue to Learn and Innovate as New Technologies Emerge

Situation 1: You Want to Advance Your Current Career Path

According to LinkedIn data, there are more than 150,000 engineering manager jobs available right now. Many require a blend of Industry 4.0 tech skills, business management skills, and leadership skills. Developed by the nationally recognized Rice Center For Engineering Leadership, the MEML@Rice degree program prepares engineers for exciting careers that include leading teams and bridging the gap between engineering, advanced technology, and human capital in an integrated way.

The MEML@Rice degree program equips graduates with the necessary human, technical, and hybrid skills that are most requested or required across a diverse range of industries including:

  • Leadership: Considered the number one human skill in 2021, leadership includes the ability to manage and influence others in a professional setting. Effective leaders must also be able to solve a wide range of complex problems.
  • Innovation: Engineering professionals must possess the constant drive to evolve and improve. Innovation was requested in over 6 million job postings in 2021.
  • Data science: Understanding how to unlock the ubiquity of data as a competitive business advantage is an essential tech skill for engineering leaders.

Rice offers a robust and employer-aligned curriculum that emphasizes human leadership skills, emerging Industry 4.0 technologies, data science, and computer science to complement existing technical expertise for long-term career relevance.

Learn to Forecast Economic Outcomes & Solve Financial Problems

Engineering managers and leaders are expected to have advanced problem-solving skills. This includes economic forecasting and financial problem-solving. At Rice, the MEML degree program offers advanced learning opportunities that help engineers understand the importance of connecting projects to economic outcomes and how to determine and communicate a project’s potential economic value to an organization’s stakeholders. The ability to effectively communicate the financial outcomes of a project, product or platform can help an engineering manager get approval and/or funding from a business executive, and help to keep the project on schedule and on budget. An effective engineering manager can ensure that a project, product or platform is completed, developed or launched on time and that the team is profitable based on initial costs and financial implications despite global economic uncertainty by applying probability to determine estimated value.

The MEML@Rice program develops leadership and problem-solving skills through four core Program Learning Outcomes:

  • Management of Engineering Teams
  • Economic Viability of Technological Ideas
  • Advanced Engineering Problem-Solving
  • Ethical-Technical Decision Making

Engineers will learn how to understand budgeting and financial analysis in order to make good decisions as they plan and manage projects and people.

Situation 2: You Want to Increase Your Salary

Having a graduate level education in Engineering Management and Leadership can help engineers stand out ahead of other applicants in a competitive, in-demand industry. Engineering professionals who are already working in the industry can also benefit from a master’s degree to acquire manager and director positions and increase their earning potential.

According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for engineers is $80,000 per year. A master’s degree can increase an individual’s earning potential by ~50%. Engineering managers can make up to $122,200 per year, depending on their technical specialization, industry, and company.

Earnings by Engineering Manager
Job Title

The table below shows how much you can expect to earn in general engineering management positions with a master’s degree:

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY
Architectural Engineering Manager Develops the concept for a new product. Solves technical problems that arise during the production process. $149,540
Biomedical Engineer Manager Oversees a team to create machinery and devices for medical purposes. Creates MRI scanners, lasers, and other medical machines. $119,694 (+29%)
Chemical Engineering Manager Manages a team of chemical engineers that design and implement processes to manufacture chemicals. Leads research studies and experiments. $134,622 (+24%)
Civil Engineering Manager Manages a team of civil engineers, responsible for project schedule/timeline, budgets, and team development. $183,946
Mechanical Engineering Manager Leads a team of design engineers. Coordinates administrative tasks including scheduling, budget, and maintaining project deadlines. $152,321
Sources: Salary.com, Zippia, ZipRecruiter
Note: The values represented in this chart are based on averages. Salaries depend on specific roles and qualifications.

Situation 3: You Want to Learn and Innovate as New Technologies Emerge

Innovation happens when business frameworks support technological solutions. Engineering leaders bridge the gap between teams and technology. The Rice Master of Engineering Management and Leadership curriculum is taught by faculty with real-world experience and academic research expertise in business innovation. Their insight helps Rice MEML graduates develop the skills and learning outcomes to lead engineering teams and to be innovation pace accelerators by employing business principles and engineering design processes that yield new products and commercialize opportunities.

Innovation enables engineering leaders to solve problems like safety issues, affordability issues, environmental issues, and more.

Coursework and hands-on training combine to deliver a learning experience that prepares graduates to be innovators who know how to apply technical and analytical decision-making to evaluate the potential of new ideas, develop innovative solutions, and improve technology product performance. The MEML@Rice program gives students the tools to tackle these societal and business issues effectively, in a more tailored, tech- and engineering-focused way than an MBA would.

Become an Engineering Leader, Without Leaving Engineering

There’s no reason to leave the field of engineering when you want to take on a leadership position. MEML@Rice is designed to help you achieve your career goals of leading engineering teams that excel in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (I4). Our I4-centric curriculum helps you leverage your current technical skills in the development of new skills like machine learning, IoT technologies, and data science. This program also prepares future leaders to understand the ethical components involved in the engineering field. Ethics is important in many different aspects of the technical and engineering landscape, for example:

  • Engineering managers must have experience in ethical and data-driven decision making to provide solutions to business problems without bias.
  • Engineering leaders in the medical industry must practice ethical-technical leadership by advancing biomedical technologies and solutions to improve patients' quality of life.
  • Electrical and computer engineering professionals must balance ethical-technical considerations like privacy when working with technology like smartphone microchips and wearable devices.

Additional FAQs About the Benefits of a MEM Degree

What do you learn in engineering management

The MEML@Rice program enables students to advance their careers in the engineering field and seek advanced positions and salaries in a highly-competitive and evolving industry. The engineering management curriculum is a professional course of study that offers practical experience and professional leadership development. The broad scope of the Master in Engineering Management program is designed to build on your current engineering skills. Upon graduation, you’ll be able to confidently connect the internal workings of technology to economic outcomes, determine and communicate technology product value, successfully lead engineering teams in the product design and commercialization process, and manage resources to bring new technologies to the marketplace.

Do you need a Master's degree to be an engineering manager?

Engineering managers need to be proficient in core engineering and technical skills as well as innovative thinking, business management, and leadership. MEML@Rice, the Master of Engineering Management program, provides the curriculum to develop these soft skills and the practical application that allow you to succeed in upper management positions rather than pursuing another technical master’s degree, such as Mechanical Engineering. Program participants will learn from engineering management faculty who share their technical, management, and problem-solving skills they honed as leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. Armed Forces.

What can you do with a Master’s in Engineering Management degree?

With the MEML@Rice degree, you’ll have the experience and credentials to carve a successful engineering management career path, apply your engineering skills to solve real-world problems in a wide range of industries, and lead diverse engineering teams. Your degree can open doors to exciting career opportunities like Director of Engineering, Vice President of Engineering (VP-E) and Chief Technical Officer (CTO).

Why do you choose engineering management?

After a few years as a working engineer, you may start having to consider what your future career looks like, be it becoming a technical lead or an engineering manager. For an engineer looking to marry engineering with important human, technical, and hybrid skills, a graduate degree in engineering management may be the path for you.

Why should engineers study management?

As technical and data skills continue to increase in demand, engineers and tech teams are gaining influence across the private and public sectors.

Many engineers are good at solving problems, developing and testing solutions using their technical skills. However, the human and business skills associated with management and leadership -- influencing others, communicating effectively, using data strategically to drive business outcomes -- aren't typically part of the engineer's traditional undergraduate education.

With over 150,000 engineering manager and leader job openings on LinkedIn, many working engineers are pursuing part-time upskilling/reskilling opportunities so they can take on expanded roles and responsibilities. Pursuing a master's in engineering management degree can be a good option, since it will honor the professional's existing technical background, while teaching new engineering management concepts and human skills.

Why is engineering management important?

Engineering management is important because it enhances an engineer’s technical expertise by adding depth in four areas: ethical decision-making, diverse team management, economic viability in technological ideas and enhanced problem-solving skills with an emphasis on rapidly advancing computer science and data analytics. All of these combine into the essential purpose of engineering management—to help translate the language of engineering into the language of industry, innovation and business.

“The MEML@Rice degree is designed to train engineering managers not for where most industries currently are, but where all of them who will thrive in Industry 4.0 must go,” says Fred Higgs, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Faculty Director of Rice Center for Engineering Leadership at Rice.

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