What jobs are there in science and sound?

With sound being central to all our lives, many different scientific and engineering disciplines carry out work in acoustics. You probably own a mobile phone that is stuffed full of audio engineering to make it work as a phone, mp3 player and video recorder. But acoustics goes beyond audio to include the design of classrooms for good communication between teacher and pupils, ultrasonic imaging in medicine, the control of noise from machines, etc. We've recently been editing bits of Wikipedia to improve the pages on acoustics and audio, and now you'll find much more about what an acoustic and audio engineer does, as well as an acoustic scientist:

Scientist or artist?

Degree courses labelled "acoustics" and "audio" come in two broad categories:

  1. Courses trying to train you to be an engineer or scientist who can design products, programme audio software, carry out scientific explorations, etc. You will have had to have studied science and mathematics at A-Level (or equivalent) to get on these type of degrees. And at university, modules will have significant science and mathematics content. (At Salford this course is Audio Acoustics).
  2. Courses trying to produce practitioners and intelligent users of audio technologies, such as sound engineers who work at live venues, in recording studios and for TV companies. You will spend more time studying the artistic and creative use of sound. (At Salford this course is PSVT).

When I just searched on UCAS for a degree in 'acoustic engineering' 35 courses were listed, but beware, not all these courses have the same content. If you study a "practitioner's" course (type 2), you will find you haven't got the technical skills to go into, say working for a headphone manufacturer to create new products. Conversely, you might want to avoid studying a BEng degree (type 1) if you aren't interested in or excel at courses with a strong scientific bias. Which type of course you choose ultimately depends on what most interests you.

Most people who study acoustics and audio are musicians, some people keep performing as a hobby (studying course type 1), others make it central to their job (course type 2). On average, there are more, better paid jobs available for those who study the first type of course, and they find jobs quicker [1], because there is a shortage of people with STEM training going into engineering and science jobs [2]. Ultimately, what businesses like Google want (who do plenty of audio research) is polymaths who bring science and arts together [3].

[1] http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/engineering-sector-jobs-graduates

[2] http://careers.guardian.co.uk/work-blog/stem-skills-shortage

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/aug/26/eric-schmidt-chairman-google-education

 

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