moving toward the future
Are you a deep thinker? Problem-solver? Do you live to learn, to discover? Do you love to teach and inform others? Do you dream of benefitting society with your intellect, skills and talents? Answer yes to any of these questions, and you might consider exploring a career in transportation research.
In a nutshell, transportation researchers use the scientific method to solve problems and generate innovations that meet society’s transportation needs for the present and the future. But don’t think it’s all white lab coats and microscopes. While many transportation researchers work in a lab and use specialized equipment, many others work in an office setting using tools like textbooks, the internet, and computer software. Many even travel the world to conduct research in the field: imagine studying in the Alaskan wilderness to determine whether the construction of a pipeline will disturb the local wolf population; or relocating to Hawaii to design a new suspension bridge. In the field of research, you choose your own adventure based on your interests, experience and skills.
Speaking of skills: math and science are essential skills for conducting factual research. They are a transportation researcher’s best tool for separating evidence or proof from speculation. Yet other skills, like the ability to write, to persuade and to communicate ideas to the public, are also incredibly valuable in this field. And curiosity, determination, and attention to detail are second-to-none.
Future transportation researchers should plan to pursue academic degrees beyond high school. Many receive at least a master’s degree, and many also eventually earn their Ph.D. You can learn more about the typical educational and skill requirements for a researcher working in your area of interest by searching online. The cool thing, though, is that the time spent in school is all really part of the job: while you’re in school, you’re also doing research, whether it’s for your academic adviser, or for your own master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. In other words, you’ll be honing your skills and knowledge while you build your resume before you even enter the job market.
After graduation, transportation researchers have a wide variety of career options. Some enter the private sector as scientists or consultants for private firms or public agencies (example: a civil engineer who studies new, sustainable construction techniques for a state department of transportation). Others have day jobs and continue to conduct research in their free time (example: environmental historian). And many go on to become professors. While they instruct the next generation, professors usually continue to conduct research independently or for local, state or federal public or private agencies, often with the assistance of graduate students. Professors often use their summers to travel, write, and conduct research.
That said, transportation is an incredibly diverse field, and there are an infinite number of questions, challenges, and opportunities—large and small—just waiting for someone like you to tackle. How do we build cleaner cities, safer bridges and better public transit systems? How do we reduce car accidents and end roadway fatalities? Put a stop to pollution? Or how do we make way for new technologies like autonomous vehicles? How do we help developing nations plan and design efficient transportation systems? These and many other questions will be waiting for the next generation of thinkers and innovators. And for those up for the challenge, the sky’s the limit.
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” –Thomas Edison.