Careers in Optics and Photonics


Illustration of Pearl Street Station, first power plant in Lower Manhattan.

It was in 1882 that Thomas Edison opened the first commercial electrical power plant in the United States, providing electricity to 59 customers in Lower Manhattan. And it was in that same year that the first electrical engineering curriculum started at MIT. What followed was a century of electrical breakthroughs. Telephones, transistors, and integrated circuits transformed the world and ushered in a century of interconnectivity never seen in history. It was the electrical engineers that created the world we know today.

Now, only a few years into the 21st Century, photonics is taking the stage in the same way electricity did in the 20th Century. Photonics impacts nearly every aspect of our lives and is revolutionizing communications, medicine, transportation, energy production, and lighting.

With increasing advancements in photonics, optical and photonics engineers play an important role in creating the future. And technicians are needed to install and maintain these devices and technologies.

The need for engineers is great. The United States Department of Labor projects that by 2024, there will be 30,000 job openings nationwide. Coupled with the fact that there are only six universities in the U.S. with bachelor's level degree programs, we face a massive shortage of engineers. In contrast China has over 200 universities with bachelor's degree programs.



Types of Careers

Technicians Engineers Researchers

As optical and photonics technologies grow in prevalence, technicians are needed to install and maintain photonics based devices.

Similar in nature to what an electrician does, optical or photonics technicians require advanced skills to service these advanced devices. A career as a This is a very hands-on career.

Optical or Photonics Engineers develop new technologies, devices, and products in an economical manner to make life better.

They use the scientific discoveries to create these new products and use imagination develop commercial applications that meet the needs of our community.

Research scientists often are presented with a technological challenge which requires an understanding of yet unknown scientific principles.

Research scientists conduct experiments to uncover new understandings of the way light behaves and interacts.
Read More About Technicians Read More About Engineers Read More about Researchers
Education: Associate of Science or Associate of Arts Education: Bachelor's or Master's of Science Education: Ph.D.



Degrees in Optics and Photonics

Associate of Science in Optical or Photonics Technology

The Associate in Science (AS) degree is uniquely designed to give students the specialized, college-level training and professional skills needed for entry-levels positions in optics or photonics. Students can continue their education in specialized bachelor degree programs designed specifically for AS degree holders. In many cases, unless there is an agreement with a university in your area, this degree is designed so students work in the field after attainment of the degree and generally does not transfer to a bachelor's program. AS degrees are normally 60 semester credit hours requiring 2 years of coursework.

Sometimes a college will have an A.A.S degree. This degree is designed so you take very few general education courses (english, history, cultural) and only prepare to be fulling trained in optics and photonics. This degree does not transfer to most colleges or university unless an agreement is in place.


Associate of Arts

Students who want to continue their education directly into Bachelor’s degree program generally choose the Associate in Arts (AA) degree. The AA degree is designed to give students the General Education foundation needed for admission directly into a Bachelors program. The General Education program requires that students take a variety of courses from across various fields of study including english, history, social sciences, mathematics and sciences. This degree very often transfers to other state universities.

AA degrees are usually about 60 semester credit hours, requiring 2 years of coursework.


Bachelor of Science in Photonic Science and Engineering

A Bachelor of Science in Engineering is a four year university-level degree program that includes general education courses and specialization in the subject areas which enables a student to become a practicing engineer. Students take multiple classes in physics, calculus, electrical theory, and optical and photonic theory. Students with AA degrees can generally transfer into this program.

Completion of the Bachelor of Science degree requires 120 to 128 semester credit hours and four to five years of coursework.


Masters of Science in Optics or Photonics

A Masters of Science in optics program is intended for students with a bachelor's degree in optics, electrical engineering, physics, or closely related fields who wish to pursue a career in industry or go on for a Ph.D. degree. The MS degree is awarded to students who have demonstrated a high level of ability in their graduate studies. Some programs offer thesis and non-thesis options. The thesis option requires students to carry out and write a thesis on an original research project in optics under the direction of a faculty member. The non-thesis option requires only coursework, but a comprehensive oral examination must be taken.

Completion of a Master of Science degree requires about 30 credit hours and 1-2 years of coursework.


Doctoral Degree in Optics or Photonics

An Optics and Photonics PhD program is intended for students with a bachelor's or master’s degree in Optics, Electrical Engineering, Physics, or closely related fields who wish to pursue a career in research or academia. Students in the PhD program conduct research to develop their deep knowledge and experimental and inquiry skills and then complete a dissertation based on original research. Upon graduation, students are capable of conducting scholarly, fundamental, and applied research.

Completion of a PhD degree requires about 72 hours and 3-5 years of coursework with research.