What Is Interdisciplinary Engineering?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Interdisciplinary engineering, also known as IDE, is engineering that incorporates the knowledge and skills associated with other disciplines. This type of engineering has a broader scope than traditional engineering. This requires a drastically different educational approach, with students taking courses from disciplines that traditionally would not be considered under an engineering program. Engineering that uses an interdisciplinary method has advantages for both employers and engineers.

Someone who wants to get into interdisciplinary engineering should excel in math courses.
Someone who wants to get into interdisciplinary engineering should excel in math courses.

The basic idea behind interdisciplinary engineering is that certain engineering projects require information that might be outside the scope of an engineering degree. For example, to engineer medical equipment, an engineer has to have a fairly thorough understanding of anatomy, physiology, biology and similar subjects. Taking an interdisciplinary approach means that individuals do not have to abandon these types of projects.

People who wish to get into interdisciplinary engineering start out studying subjects considered fundamental to traditional engineering such as math, chemistry and mechanics. This is supplemented with courses in the liberal arts. Beyond this, it is up to the interdisciplinary engineering student to fill his curriculum. This means that two students in the field can follow very different educational paths depending on what their engineering interests are. Although IDE programs are highly flexible in this way, students still are given broad guidelines for the number of credits they must have from predetermined categories of courses.

Despite the flexibility of interdisciplinary engineering programs, interdisciplinary engineers do focus their work. For instance, they might go into systems engineering or mechatronics. Thus, even as engineers can promote their interdisciplinary background, they still can point out a specific type of engineering for prospective employers or clients.

One of the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach to engineering is that, with information from areas outside of basic engineering, an engineer becomes able to look at an engineering project under many different lenses. He is able to think more critically about how to design and what those designs might mean for specific people or the environment. This can mean the engineer's results last longer and are more positive.

Another benefit to interdisciplinary engineering is that, because interdisciplinary engineers are better prepared to face a wide range of projects, employers sometimes are more willing to hire these professionals. The employers know that the engineers might be able to meet more than one need the company has. From the employer's perspective, this means greater productivity and stability. From the engineer's perspective, it means more consistent work and a better income.

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