Discover Careers in BAE
Do you want to make a real difference in your world? Would you like to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and help meet the needs of a growing world population? For the student who enjoys science and math, biological and agricultural engineering offers a unique opportunity to combine those scholarly interests with the challenge of providing food, fuel, fiber, timber and other goods without degrading or depleting our natural resources.
BAE academic programs offer a unique and valuable educational experience. Coursework includes engineering fundamentals complemented by classes in biological and agricultural sciences. When they reach their advanced-level courses, BAE students then tend to choose a specialty area according to their individual interests - for example, environmental systems, food production, biological processes, or power and machinery systems. The breadth of the BAE educational experience means that graduates have many career options, from ecosystems protection, to food safety, to bioenergy, and even human health.
BAE students enjoy a distinct advantage when it comes time to enter the workforce. Their well-rounded engineering experiences enable them to function exceptionally well on the multidisciplinary teams in today's workforce. And only biological and agricultural engineers have the training and experience to understand the interrelationships between technology and living systems - talents needed to succeed in engineering positions today and in the future.
Why Students Love BAE
"I found biological and agricultural engineering to be a challenging field of study and very different from the typical engineering fields. I have the chance to work in an industry that affects everyone in the world!"
"Other university departments are so big and impersonal, but my faculty took time to get to know me and help me grow, personally as well as academically. There is a real sense of community in this major."
"My studies prepared me for the job market by exposing me to many different experiences and scenarios that come across in work."
Discover Careers in Biological and Agricultural Engineering - a special issue of Resource magazine.
Biological and agricultural
engineering embraces a variety of specialty areas. As new
technology and information emerge, specialty areas are created, and
many overlap with one or more other areas. Here are descriptions of
some of the exciting specialties you could choose to focus on as a
student in biological and agricultural engineering.
One of the most rapidly
growing of the BAE specialties, biological engineering applies
engineering practice to problems and opportunities presented by
living things and the natural environment. Biological engineers are
involved in a variety of exciting interests that continue to emerge
as our understanding of science and nature grows. Areas of interest
range from environmental protection and remediation, to food and
feed production, to medicine and plant-based pharmaceuticals and
packaging materials. Some BAEs with expertise in biological
engineering design medical implants and other devices, or
bioinstrumentation and imaging products. Other develop strategies
for natural pest control and treatment of hazardous wastes, for
composting, and for enzyme processing of biomass, food, feed, and
Our environment is fragile. The 1930s Dust Bowl and climatic events
like the El Nino phenomenon remind us that our soil and water are
vulnerable to degradation by both natural and man-made forces.
Concerns about global climate change compel us further compel us to
protect our natural resources. BAEs with environmental expertise
work to better understand the complex mechanics of these resources,
so that they can be used efficiently and without degradation. These
engineers determine crop water requirements and design irrigation
systems. They are experts in agricultural hydrology principles,
such as controlling drainage, and they implement ways to control
soil erosion and study the environmental effects of sediment on
stream quality. Natural resources engineers design, build, operate
and maintain water control structures for reservoirs, floodways and
channels. They also work on water treatment systems, wetlands
protection, and other water issues.
& Machinery Design
BAEs in this specialty focus on designing advanced equipment,
making it more efficient and less demanding of our natural
resources. They develop equipment for food processing, highly
precise crop spraying, agricultural commodity and waste transport,
and turf and landscape maintenance, as well as equipment for such
specialized tasks as removing seaweed from beaches. This is in
addition to the tractors, tillage equipment, irrigation equipment,
and harvest equipment that have done so much to reduce the drudgery
of farming. Their work remains challenging as technology advances,
production practices change and equipment manufacturers expand
BAEs understand the importance of creating and maintaining a
healthy environment for growing agricultural commodities and for
the laborers who produce them. They also understand that our
natural resources must not be diminished, in quality or
availability, by agricultural operations. Toward these ends, BAEs
with expertise in structures and environment design animal housing,
storage structures, and greenhouses, with ventilation systems,
temperature and humidity controls, and structural strength
appropriate for their climate and purpose. They also devise better
practices and systems for storing, recovering, reusing, and
transporting waste products.
Food and Bioprocess
Food, fiber, and timber
are only the beginning of a long list of products that benefit from
efficient use of our natural resources. The list is growing - it
includes biomass fuels, biodegradable packaging materials,
nutraceuticals, pharmaceutical and other products - and is limited
only by the creative vision of food and bioprocess engineers. These
engineers understand microbiological processes and use this
expertise to develop useful products, to treat municipal,
industrial and agricultural wastes, and to improve food safety.
They are experts in pasteurization, sterilization, and irradiation,
and in the packaging, transportation and storage of perishable
products. Food an process engineers combine design expertise with
manufacturing methods to develop economical and responsible
processing solutions for industry. And food and process engineers
look for ways to reduce waste by devising alternatives for
treatment, disposal and utilization.
Information & Electrical
Information and electrical technologies engineering is one of the
most versatile of the BAE specialty areas, because it is applied to
virtually all the others, from machinery design to soil testing to
food quality and safety control. Geographic information systems,
global positioning systems, machine instrumentation and controls,
electromagnetics, and -"bioinfomatics"- biorobotics, machine
vision, sensors, spectroscopy - these are some of the exciting
information and electrical technologies being used today and being
developed for the future.
Biological and agricultural engineers apply engineering to solve
natural resource and environment problems in forest production
systems and related manufacturing industries. Engineering skills
and expertise are needed to address problems related to equipment
design and manufacturing, forest access systems design and
construction; machine-soil interaction and erosion control; forest
operations analysis and improvement; decision modeling; and wood
product design and manufacturing. Forest engineers are involved in
a full range of activities in natural resource management and
forest production systems.
Our high standard of living and comfort could not be maintained
without energy to power the machines, devices, and systems in our
homes and workplaces. But many energy sources are nonrenewable and
create undesirable byproducts. Biological and agricultural
engineers are at the forefront of the effort to identify and
develop viable energy sources-biomass, methane, and vegetable oil,
to name a few - and to make these and other systems cleaner and
more efficient. These specialists also develop energy conservation
strategies to reduce costs and protect the environment, and they
design traditional and alternative energy systems to meet the needs
of agricultural operations.
The demand for aquacultural engineering is increasing as natural
fish supplies are threatened. Biological and agricultural engineers
help design farm systems for raising fish and shellfish, as well as
ornamental and bait fish. They specialize in water quality,
biotechnology, machinery, natural resources, feeding and
ventilation systems, and sanitation. They seek ways to reduce
pollution from aquacultural discharges, to reduce excess water use,
and to improve farm systems. They also work with aquatic animal
harvesting, sorting, and processing.
Nursery & Greenhouse
In many ways, nursery and greenhouse operations are microcosms of
large-scale production agriculture, with many similar needs -
irrigation, mechanization, disease and pest control, and nutrient
application. However, other engineering needs also present
themselves in nursery and greenhouse operations: equipment for
transplantation; control systems for temperature, humidity, and
ventilation; and plant biology issues, such as hydroponics, tissue
culture, and seedling propagation methods. And sometimes the
challenges are extraterrestrial: BAEs at NASA are designing
greenhouse systems to support a manned expedition to Mars!
Farming is one of the few industries
in which entire families - who often share the work and live on the
premises - are vested and are at risk for injuries, illness, and
death. Biological and agricultural engineers analyze health and
injury data, the use and possible misuse of machines, and equipment
compliance with standards and regulation. They constantly look for
ways in which the safety of equipment, materials and agricultural
practices can be improved and for ways in which safety and health
issues can be communicated to the public.
Preparing for a Career
As with any engineering discipline, you'll need to take as many math and science courses as you can while you're in high school, but you should be sure to include life sciences among you selections. You should also take writing and speech courses; every engineer must be able to communicate effectively, and that includes speaking, listening, and the art of persuasion.
You'll find that university BAE programs have many names, such as biological systems engineering, bioresource engineering, environmental engineering, forest engineering, or food and process engineering.
Whatever the title, the typical curriculum begins with courses in writing, social sciences, and economics, along with mathematics (calculus and statistics), chemistry, physics, and biology. You'll gain a fundamental knowledge of the life sciences and how biological systems interact with their environment. You'll also take engineering courses, such as thermodynamics, mechanics, instrumentation and controls, electronics and electrical circuits, and engineering design. Then you'll add courses related to your particular interests, perhaps including mechanization, soil and water resource management, food and process engineering, industrial microbiology, biological engineering or pest management. As seniors, engineering students team up to design, build, and test new processes or products.
One thing you'll enjoy as a student in a university BAE program is the environment. Nearly every BAE student you'll talk to will describe their department in a similar way: "It's like a family." Cliché as that might sound, BAE departments pride themselves on taking care of their students, on helping them become confident, competent leaders. In a BAE department, you'll enjoy a close personal academic experience in which faculty look after their students, and students look after each other. Perhaps that's because the faculty:student ratio is much lower than in most other engineering programs, or perhaps it's because all share an awareness of the higher sense of purpose in their work. Or maybe it's a reflection of the rural-community traditions in which the discipline can trace its history. Regardless of the reason, the supportive environment of BAE departments is a difference you'll appreciate in facing the academic and social challenges of your college years.
Where to Study ?
For a list of universities that offer biological and agricultural engineering degrees, click here.
Ag Systems Management
Not inclined toward an engineering career? Consider agricultural systems management, or agricultural technology. This special issue of Resource magazine will tell you more.
Explore Careers in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management