Overview | Specific Work Activities | Common Work Activities | Related Occupations | Skills and Abilities | Working Conditions | Physical Demands | Knowledge | Interests | Wages | Current Employment | Outlook | Helpful High School Courses | Preparation | Related Educational Programs | Hiring Practices | Licensing/Certification/Designation/Registration | Advancement Opportunities | Additional Sources of Information | Back to Green Careers
At a Glance
- Work with lasers and fiber optics
- Have at least a bachelor's degree
- Often work in the telecommunications industry
- Are very good at math, physics, and science
- Sit for long periods of time
- Earn $82,920 per year (Hawaii median)
Photonics engineers use their knowledge of engineering and mathematics to design laser and fiber optic technology.
Lasers and fiber optics have applications in a variety of fields. In medicine, lasers are used for delicate surgical procedures. In manufacturing, powerful lasers are used for marking, cutting, and shaping materials. In the military, lasers are used to aim weapons with pinpoint accuracy. Fiber optics are used in telecommunications, including computer networks like the Internet. If you are reading this on a computer, chances are good that the data spent some time on a fiber optic path on its way to your screen.
The tasks of a photonics engineer vary based on the specific field and application. Most engineers develop new products and systems that use optics and photonics. This may mean that a photonics engineer in a manufacturing setting may create a new laser device to cut plastic. Or, an engineer may work on refining optical cables to reduce energy loss. They often develop prototypes first to see if their ideas can be developed further.
Engineers in this field spend a lot of time analyzing system performance to see if it's working efficiently. They also conduct tests to see if a system or product functions well. They often recommend changes through reports and proposals. Because this is a growing field, photonics engineers also spend a lot of time keeping up-to-date with new developments in optics and laser technology.
Specific Work Activities
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to photonics engineers.
- Design, integrate, or test photonics systems and components.
- Develop optical or imaging systems such as optical imaging products, optical components, image processes, signal process technologies, and optical systems.
- Analyze system performance or operational requirements.
- Write reports or research proposals.
- Assist in the transition of photonic prototypes to production.
- Develop and test photonic prototypes or models.
- Conduct testing to determine functionality and optimization or to establish limits of photonics systems or components.
- Design electro-optical sensing or imaging systems.
- Read current literature, talk with colleagues, continue education, or participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in the field.
- Conduct research on new photonics technologies.
Common Work Activities
Photonics engineers perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Analyze data or information.
- Process information.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Use computers.
- Estimates sizes, quantities, time, cost, or materials needed.
- Think creatively.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Provide information or drawings about devices, equipment, or structures.
- Document and record information.
- Evaluate information against standards.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Develop goals and strategies.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Communicate with people from outside the organization.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Schedule work and activities.
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Hawaii Career Pathways:
- Industrial & Engineering Technology
Related O*NET Specialties:
Skills and Abilities
Photonics engineers need to:
- Express ideas clearly when speaking or writing.
- Understand spoken and written information.
- Use reasoning to discover answers to problems.
- Develop rules or follow guidelines when arranging items in a certain order.
- Notice when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong.
- Combine several pieces of information and draw conclusions.
- Think of new ideas or original and creative ways to solve problems.
- Concentrate and not be distracted while performing a task.
- Choose a mathematical method or formula to solve problems.
- Imagine how something will look if it is moved around or its parts are rearranged.
- Identify a pattern (a figure, object, word, or sound) that is hidden in distracting material.
- Quickly and accurately compare letters, numbers, objects, pictures, or patterns.
In a typical work setting, photonics engineers:
- Have a medium level of interaction with others.
- Communicate with people daily by telephone, e-mail, and in person.
- Write letters and memos on a weekly basis.
- Work as part of a project team.
- Are somewhat responsible for work outcomes or the work done by others.
- Are somewhat responsible for the health and safety of other workers.
- Usually work indoors.
- Sometimes wear protective or safety attire.
- May work within a few feet of others, such as when sharing an office.
- Must make sure that their work is exact and accurate. Errors can cost time and money and delay the completion of a project.
- Rarely consult a supervisor before making a decisions or setting tasks and goals.
- Meet strict weekly and monthly deadlines. This makes the work atmosphere somewhat competitive.
- Monthly make decisions that impact coworkers and their company.
- Usually work a standard work week, but overtime is common when deadlines are near.
Photonics engineers frequently:
- Sit for long periods of time.
- Use their hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
It is important for photonics engineers to be able to:
- See details of objects whether they are nearby or far away.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
It is not as important, but still necessary, for photonics engineers to be able to:
- Use fingers or hands to grasp, move, or assemble very small objects.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
- Determine the distance between objects.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- Move two or more limbs together (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while remaining in place.
- See objects in very bright or glaring light.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Choose quickly and correctly among various movements when responding to different signals.
Photonics engineers need knowledge in the following areas:
- Engineering and Technology: Knowledge of how to build machines, buildings, and other things. Also includes knowledge of how to use computers, machines, and tools to do work more usefully.
- Physics: Knowledge of the features and rules of matter and energy. Areas of knowledge include air, water, light, heat, weather, and other natural events.
- Design: Knowledge of making and using plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.
- Mathematics: Knowledge of the rules and uses of numbers. Areas of knowledge include arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics.
- Computers and Electronics: Knowledge of computer hardware and software.
- English Language: Knowledge of the meaning, spelling, and use of the English language.
- Production and Processing: Knowledge of how products are made and supplied.
- Mechanical: Knowledge of designing, using, and repairing machines and tools.
Photonics engineers are people who tend to:
- Consider achievement important. They like to see the results of their work and to use their strongest abilities. They like to get a feeling of accomplishment from their work.
- Consider independence important. They like to make decisions and try out ideas on their own. They prefer jobs where they can plan their work with little supervision.
- Consider good working conditions important. They like jobs offering steady employment and good pay. They want employment that fits their individual work style. They may prefer doing a variety of tasks, working alone, or being busy all the time.
- Consider recognition important. They like to work in jobs which have opportunities for them to advance, be recognized for their work, and direct and instruct others. They usually prefer jobs in which they are looked up to by others.
- Have investigative interests. They like work activities that have to do with ideas and thinking. They like to search for facts and figure out solutions to problems mentally.
- Have realistic interests. They like work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They like to work with plants, animals, and physical materials such as wood, tools, and machinery. They often prefer to work outside.
- Have conventional interests. They like work activities that follow set procedures, routines, and standards. They like to work with data and detail. They prefer working where there is a clear line of authority to follow.
Occupational Interest Codes:
Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The engineer's level of training, experience, and responsibility also affect wages.
Photonics engineers who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.
Specific information about the number of photonics engineers in Hawaii and nationally is not available.
- Engineering firms
- Federal government agencies
In Hawaii, outlook information is not available specifically for photonics engineers. However, they are included in a larger group of "engineers, all other." Little change in employment is expected for workers in this group through 2018.
Nationally, employment of workers in this group is expected to grow slower than average through 2018.
The outlook for engineers varies by industry. The demand for new products and systems that use optics and photonics is expected to grow. This will create job opportunities for photonics engineers. Opportunities will be best for engineers with strong communication, computer, and technical skills.
The table below provides information about the number of workers in this occupation in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.
Helpful High School Courses
In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from our state's graduation requirements. Click here for public school graduation requirements for students graduating in 2011 or 2012. Click here for public school graduation requirements for students graduating in 2013 or later. If you attend a private school, check with your school counselor for graduation requirements. Photonics engineers use math and science frequently. Try to take math classes through Trigonometry and science classes through Physics.
You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.
Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this occupation include:
- Blueprint Reading
- Computer Applications
- Computer Science
The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.
You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.
Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Click here for examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.
To work as a photonics engineer, you must:
- have a high school diploma or GED;
- complete at least a bachelor's degree; and
- have strong technical and communication skills.
Education after high school
Photonics engineers need at least a bachelor's degree in photonics or optical engineering. Some work in this field with a degree in electronic engineering or physics. Engineering programs take four to five years to complete.
It is becoming common for workers in this field to receive a master’s degree in photonics engineering. Because this field is complex, some employers favor advanced degrees.
You should consider participating in an internship with an engineering firm while you are in college. An internship offers you a chance to apply what you have learned in the classroom to a work situation. It also allows you to build skills and make contacts with people in the field.
Many laser and fiber optics engineering companies have their own testing labs. Getting a summer job in an "in house" laboratory is a good way to gain experience and make contacts.
It is common for newly hired photonics engineers to receive some on-the-job training. This varies by employer, and can last anywhere from one to six months.
Related Educational Programs
- Electrical/Electronics Technologies
Most employers require that photonics engineers have at least a bachelor's degree in engineering. Many employers will require a master's degree. Employers also look for people with strong communication, computer, and technical skills. Certification or licensing may also be required.
Licensing / Certification / Designation / Registration
In Hawaii, engineers (except those employed by the federal government) whose work involves the safety or health of the public must be licensed by the Hawaii board of professional engineers, architects, surveyors, and landscape architects. In Hawaii, licenses are offered in seven disciplines of engineering which include agriculture, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and structural. Licensure requires meeting educational and experience requirements, passing an exam, and paying fees.
Photonics engineers advance by becoming licensed. After graduation, engineers usually take an exam on the fundamentals of engineering. Next, photonics engineers work under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer for a period of years that is determined by the state board of examiners. Once they have met the work experience requirements, they can take another exam to become a professional engineer.
Once photonics engineers pass the professional exam and get licensed, they have many options for advancement. They may be given more complex projects and be assigned as the lead engineer. They may move into management positions. Professional photonics engineers can also start their own consulting firms.
Additional Sources of Information
- "Occupational Outlook Handbook" (Free on the Internet or $23.00 paper cover/$39.00 hard cover to purchase; p. 142)
Publication Date: 2010-2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Career Information Available on the Internet
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