Learn how you can study sound through a degree program related to acoustics. Review your degree options at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and explore the wide variety of careers you could pursue in this field.
Is Acoustics for Me?
Acoustics is the scientific study of sound, including its control, transmission, production and reception. In addition to the study of musical instruments and architectural spaces, acoustics can also include the study of seismology (the scientific study of earthquakes), ultrasound technology, noise control and SONAR. The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) recognizes 13 distinct areas of acoustical study that span the arts, earth sciences, life sciences and engineering. Some of these areas include speech communication, animal bioacoustics, noise, musical acoustics and underwater acoustics.
A few acoustics degree programs are available in the U.S., but several other fields of study may also prepare you for careers in acoustics. For example, the study of oceanography may prepare you to work in underwater sound, whereas an architectural program may prepare you for a career in room and theater acoustics. Most jobs in acoustics are found in academia, industry or research. You could work as a college or university professor, splitting your time between research and teaching, or you might work in a laboratory setting performing research for the government or private companies.
Because of the varied job opportunities in acoustics, it's difficult to say how much you might earn working in this field. However, most senior research engineers working in acoustics earned total annual pay of $51,600-$142,763 (including salary and bonuses), according to PayScale.com in February 2014; the median pay was $90,706. As a postsecondary teacher, you might expect to earn about $68,970; this was the median annual salary for postsecondary teachers as of May 2012, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The BLS also predicts that jobs for engineers in general will increase 9% from 2012-2022, and jobs for postsecondary teachers will increase 19% during that same decade.
How Can I Work in Acoustics?
Acoustic programs are often provided through engineering and physics departments. Although they're rare, you may find a school with specialization or minor options in acoustics at the bachelor's degree level, preparing you for graduate study or entry-level careers in acoustics. You generally need a bachelor's degree to be admitted to a graduate program, but it doesn't necessary need to be in acoustics. Other undergraduate majors that may apply include engineering, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering sciences.
Many research positions in acoustics, including those in academia, require you to earn a graduate degree. Master of Science (M.S.) and Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) programs in acoustics are available; these generally take two years of study to finish and require the completion of a thesis project or research report. You can also pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in acoustics, which takes about five years to complete. Often, you can tailor these graduate programs to satisfy your personal interests within this diverse field, but required courses may cover basic and physical acoustics, signal processing, medical ultrasonics, optics, underwater acoustics, vibrations, speech and thermoacoustics.