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Materials Science Subject Guide

Thinking about studying materials science at postgraduate level? It’s an interdisciplinary subject that draws on physics, chemistry, maths and biology to explore and innovate in the creation and use of different materials. 

You might be wondering what the best postgraduate progression route is for students looking for exciting engineering or materials science jobs, or you might just be considering different areas you could specialise in after an engineering, maths or science undergrad. 

This guide contains all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision about studying a materials science degree. Whether it’s entry requirements, course content, the types of qualification available or future career options, you’ll find it here. 


Why do a materials science degree? 

Materials science is focused on understanding what things are made of and why they behave in certain ways. Every product, device or structure in existence requires the work and expertise of material scientists in order to succeed. From aerospace engineering to miracle medical technology, material scientists build knowledge about how to create, improve on and utilise different materials – unlocking new technological solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. 

As a student of materials science, you’ll be able to tackle issues such as climate change, renewable energy, healthcare and biotechnology, aerospace, and information technology – to name a few. It’s a diverse and constantly changing field, ideally suited to curious minds and natural engineers. 

This field offers a range of great career paths in all kinds of industries, and the materials scientist salary potential is attractive too. With specialist knowledge and experience, postgraduates in this field can expect promising career progression. 

What qualifications can you get? 

There are a few options for you to choose from as a prospective materials science postgraduate. The best qualification type for you will depend on your academic goals and your current education – such as your level of research experience. 

The taught master’s degree, an MSc, is a popular choice for recent graduates and those looking to move into the field. They provide a thorough education in the theory of materials science, develop your professional research skills, and allow you to dive into areas that particularly interest you. 

You could consider a shorter taught qualification, like a PGCert or PGDip, which can be completed in less than a year or extended into a full MSc. 

An MRes is a master’s level research qualification and can be a great way to build research experience before tackling an MPhil or PhD. These doctoral level research degrees provide the opportunity and training needed to become a professional researcher, ready for a career in academia or industry. 

Each university offering materials science degrees will offer a range of qualification types, so it’s worth checking what’s available where. 

What jobs can you do with a materials science degree? 

Materials science prepares its students for a huge range of science, engineering, research and industrial development roles. Your knowledge and skills will be relevant to sectors ranging from healthcare to heavy industry, product design or space flight. 

Some of the materials science jobs you could go on to include: 

  • Design engineer 
  • Product development scientist 
  • Process development engineering 
  • Design engineer 
  • Materials scientist 
  • Research scientist 
  • Biochemical engineer 
  • Biomedical engineer 
  • Geotechnical engineer 
  • Manufacturing engineer 
  • Project manager 
  • Quality manager 

Research and engineering roles will be highly varied. It’s likely that you’ll get a job in a certain industry and build experience in that niche, opening up more senior and specialised roles as you progress. However, that’s not to say that you can’t swap industries during your career, as the transferable skills you develop will be in high demand. 

What are the materials science degree entry requirements? 

Each materials science course will have specific entry requirements set by the university and the administrators of your chosen course, so it’s always worth checking exact details before applying. 

However, in general, applicants to a taught MSc in materials science will need at 2:2 or higher at undergraduate level, in a relevant science or engineering discipline. Students with lower academic grades may also be considered if they have relevant industrial experience. 

Applicants for a PhD qualification will typically need a 2:1 or higher, and should be able to demonstrate their ability to take on a long-term, advanced research project. 

What materials science courses are there? 

Some of the materials science courses you could consider at postgraduate level include: 

  • MSc Advanced Materials Engineering 
  • MSc Digital Manufacturing of Advanced Materials 
  • MSc Structural Engineering with Materials 
  • PhD Materials Characterisation and Processing 
  • PhD Biomaterials 

What topics does a materials science degree cover? 

The curricula of materials science degrees can differ markedly at postgraduate level, as students specialise in certain areas. However, you might study modules like: 

  • Materials selection 
  • Advanced materials characterisation 
  • Materials design against failure 
  • Engineering composites 
  • Advanced materials processing and manufacturing 

What do you learn in a materials science degree? 

Material scientists stand out for the interdisciplinary nature of their training. With a deep understanding of the science that underpins the properties and performance of materials, as well as the processes involved in producing and maintaining them, they are equally suited to research or industry roles. They’re ideally suited to work closely with engineers, and postgraduate study is the ideal way to select modules and specialise in the areas that interest you most. 

In addition to deep technical and scientific expertise, you’ll develop valuable professional competencies such as: 

  • Analytical and independent thinking 
  • Creative problem solving 
  • Excellent numerical and data skills 
  • Research skills 
  • Report writing and presentation 
  • Relevant business and industry knowledge 

That’s in addition to becoming fluent in the use of various specialised software packages, including modelling packages and programming. 

How will you be taught and assessed? 

Teaching during your materials science postgraduate degree will include lectures and seminars, where you’ll absorb core information and get into discussions with your peers. Laboratory sessions will also be a major feature, including digital labs where you’ll carry out modelling and other research work. 

Assessment will usually be via coursework, included written essays, reports and presentations, and a dissertation that will form a major component of your final grade. A dissertation or thesis is a chance to showcase your skills and develop new insights in an area of your choice. 

How long is a materials science degree? 

The length of your materials science qualification will depend on what type of degree you go for, and whether you study full-time or part-time. 

Completing an MSc or PGDip degree will usually take one year full-time, or up to two years part-time. A research master’s will take the same amount of time as a taught one. 

Doctoral qualifications take longer than master’s level ones – an MPhil will last two years full-time, for example, while a PhD can take up to four years. Studying part-time will double these timescales. 

Where can you study materials science? 

With more than 70 materials science programmes to choose from at postgraduate level, offered across more than 30 universities in the UK, there’s no shortage of choice when it comes to your studies in this field. 

Our university search tool makes it easy to manage all your options, with information on everything from course content to entry requirements at your fingertips. 

What similar subjects are there to materials science? 

You might also want to consider other similar subjects to materials science, depending on where your interests lie. Other options include: 

  • Structural engineering 
  • Mechanical engineering 
  • Electronics engineering 
  • Civil engineering 
  • Physics 

Next: Search for materials science courses


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