Engineer vs. Scientist: What's the Difference?

Scientists and Engineers Share Their Personal Perspectives

An engineer working on a robot
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Some people say there is no difference between a scientist and an engineer, while other people think the two careers are totally separate from each other. Scientists and engineers typically have strong opinions about what they do, which makes sense, since it involves discovering, inventing, and improving pretty much everything, right? We asked members of both professions how they would describe the difference between a scientist and an engineer. Here's what they had to say.

"Scientists are the ones who create the theories, engineers are the ones who implement them. They complement each other and often work together, the scientists telling the engineers what to make and the engineers telling the scientists the constraints that said thing to be made doesn't meet. They are indeed different, but they work very close together." —The Walker
"Not vs., AND: Scientists ask what happens and why in the natural world, while engineers use the answers scientists find to create new inventions and ideas, not in the natural world. Both are equally important, as without scientists engineers would not create, and without engineers the research scientists do would be wasted. They go hand in hand." —Ashley
"It's not vs., it's AND: There is hardly any difference between the two. In the end, it is all mathematics and physics." —Logical
"Science is about knowledge and engineering is about invention." —Aburo Leusttas
"Science is a lot of high-level theory and engineering is implementation and optimization. Often a Computer Scientist will come up with a plan that a Soft Engineer have to modify because the theory is not realistic enough to be in production. Engineers deal with math, efficiency, and optimization while a Scientist deals with 'what is possible.' A Scientist would be happy spending a million-dollar creating a trinket worth 10 dollars as long as it's good science. An engineer doesn't have that luxury." —Ying (computer scientist & software engineer)
"Engineering is, in a way, more of a science than science itself is. There is something integrally artistic about searching for knowledge simply for knowledge's sake, as a scientist does, and something slightly less so about the functional, practical, minimalist themes behind most engineering. Science is more romantic, in a way, a never-ending search, engineering limited to goals, profit margins, and physical means." —Michael
"I am a scientist who works daily with engineers. I'm generally treated as one of them and often perform the same duties. The main difference is that a scientist focuses on the unknown while the engineer focuses on the 'known.' We actually complement well when the engineers can overcome their ego." —Nate
"As we can see from the list of the Noble Prize in Physics, we can already tell who inhabits that area. Scientists are the ones who start the process, and their work are sometimes theoretical in manner, but really exciting both mathematically and mystically. Engineers don't really need to go that far to serve their purpose. I seldom see an engineer who knows the strong force." —Muon
"THE difference: Engineers are trained for using tools, where scientists are trained for making them. Engineers are hard workers, where scientists are free workers. Engineers spend most of there time to looking at a solution where scientist spend their time looking at the problem. Engineers always treat the disease whereas scientist treats the root of the disease. Engineers are narrow-minded and scientist are broad-minded." —Supun
"They're Cousins! Scientists develop theories and work to verify them, engineers search in these theories to 'optimize' things in real life. For instance, scientists may research and find out some properties of a material, while engineers look for how to utilize these properties in an optimal manner while considering efficiency, cost, and other aspects of interests. There is an overlap between science and engineering. In fact, you may find an engineer who 'develop theories' and a scientist who 'optimizes.'" —Motasem
"Scientists, engineers (and yes, managers) are all after the same thing! Science explores the phenomena of nature and attempts to find the laws that govern them; Engineering attempts to use the laws of nature (already known) to replicate them in situations leading to usable end results; Management provides the logical framework (what and why—the strategy and when and how of the operations) for our efforts through science and engineering! Hence, every professional is a scientist, engineer, and manager (with different proportions, depending on their job assignment or career choice). Then what is technology? Technology is an integrated outcome of science, engineering, and management pertaining to the phenomena of choice. Nuclear Technology is the integration of S/E/M pertaining to nuclear fission or fusion. Automotive technology is a collection of S/E/M efforts pertaining to automobiles and hence include I.C. Engine technology, Steering and Control technology, etc." —Dr. K. Subramanian
"The Honest Truth? Scientists get Ph.D.s; Engineers get jobs." —The Wanderer
"Engineers and scientists do the same jobs. Engineers only learn a particular field in great depth. For example, a physicist will know Maxwell's laws, and basic circuit theory but an electrical engineer will have studied next to nothing but electrical phenomena for the same time. Engineering also crosses the traditional boundaries of science. Chemical engineers study the physics of chemical reactions on large scales. Both jobs are problem-solving jobs. Both involve design testing and innovation. Both can be research jobs involving the study of new phenomena." —Studied both, worked as both
"All engineers are scientists, but all scientists are not engineers." —Narendra Thapathali (engineer)
"Engineers solve practical problems, scientist solve theoretical problems." —X
"The difference lies in that in engineering, we use science to make decisions for a product, project for efficiency, performance, better performance, low cost, etc., while the scientist is about discovering, experimenting, and providing the 'building blocks' for the engineer to use and create and design." —Rina
"Easy. Scientists discover what already is. Engineers create that which isn't." —Engineer
"It greatly depends. The difference depends greatly on the particular field of study. There are as many engineers involved in research and development as there are scientists involved in application and optimization. In my opinion, the main difference is the old Artistic/cerebral dichotomy. Scientists usually go for more philosophical subjects. Whereas Engineers usually go for more mathematical subjects." —Bio-med Eng
"It's obvious. A natural scientist tries to understand nature, and an engineer tries to create what nature doesn't have by making use of what scientists have discovered." —ChemEng
"The main difference lies in the main field of work. An engineer is more on the physical aspect of matter (or materials) while a scientist is more on the functionality & 'concepts' related to the matter (or material). However, both work on the same scientific concepts of matter or material in the field of science and technology." —MTMaturan
"I believe that there is a big difference between scientists and engineers. For one thing, engineers are usually confined to building and designing. Scientists do not have as many boundaries and can really do whatever they want. However, this could also include building and design. So as you can see there is some overlap. But scientists are more likely to do many more things including making theories." —Scientist
"They are almost the same if we would look at it with a general point of view. I believed that scientists are those who always search for new things and try to understand, while engineers try to apply science by optimizing it, exploring the possibility of producing in big scale, but all of it sums up to 'using science in service to mankind.'" —Lawrence
"Money vs. Glory. Engineers work for money, while scientists work for glory (scientists are compensated poorly)." —L
"Simplest answer: Scientists discover things. Engineers build things." —Jon
"ENGFTMFW. Different mindset altogether. Engineer learns what is needed to get the job done and does it. Scientists learn for the sake of learning—they accumulate vast amounts of knowledge according to their whims, maybe discover something, write a book, and die. Dreaming vs doing. BTW: If you think scientists are the only people making discoveries, look at which camp files the most patents." —Dr. Ph.D. Prof. LoL
"Amalgamation. A scientist researches the world using the scientific method. An engineer innovates new products with the results. Engineers may test their products to perfect them but do not use the scientific method to research new things. Observation at most." —ajw
"Two sides of the same coin! Depending on what engineering you are referring to, there are varying degrees of overlap (e.g. EE has a ton of overlap), but more often than not it stems from what engineering really boils down to—applied science. I do agree with the idea that science tends to concern itself more with the natural world where as engineering concerns itself with the man-made world. Ask anyone who is isn't an engineer or scientists and they think they have very little in common; ask someone that is one of the aforementioned and they will say they are nearly indistinguishable. It is funny to hear arguments between the two camps but at the end of the day, everyone agrees that they build upon each other and advance one another. And if you are one of the two, you shouldn't let it bother you if lay people can't get it right. What are you doing outside the lab anyway?" —EMfortheWin
"MS in EE? Why is my Electrical Engineering degree called a Masters of SCIENCE?" —Ratcoon
"They answer different questions. Scientists answer the questions: 'What is it?' or 'Can we possibly...?' whereas engineers answer the questions 'How do we...?' and 'What is it for?' Note, the middle two questions are where they overlap. (Note, as a scientist working in an Engineering Department, the 'What's it for?' question is one that causes me a lot of irritation)." —demoninatutu
"'Mad scientist' vs. 'Mad engineer': A "mad scientist" (as seen on TV) is an engineer but a "mad engineer" is not a scientist." —George
"Scientist = Ph.D. I am sorry but this is really simple. You can't be a scientist with out the "philosophy" part. No Ph.D. = no scientist. If you have one you understand me." —Marc Andersen, Ph.D.
"Something important to note is that obtaining training as a scientist does not necessarily make one 'theoretical or purely research-oriented,' neither does a degree in engineering automatically qualify one to a 'practical based/engineer,' for that matter. If a physicist by training takes a career as an engineer in a power generation firm where he spends over 10 years work as a Power Engineer, then he may as well qualify to be an engineer (in the making). An 'engineer' by training may spend his life doing scientific/theoretical research after the first degree and may never see the doors of a factory etc., He may not in this sense qualify to be called "practical" or to be termed an engineer." —Wakhanu
"Scientists face minimal risk of being wrong en route to a plausible solution. In fact, it is expected that we should be wrong several times before finally being right. Engineers face a high risk of being wrong even once because corporate or government money and deadlines are at stake. When scientists become engineers is when we have to make our research profitable and work under the extreme pressure of being right on a deadline. When engineers become scientists is when we are asked to deliver solutions that raise the bar set or challenged by the competitor’s engineers and scientists, which occurs on every new revision." —Engineering_Scientist (undergrad science, grad engineering)
"The difference, in a parable: A man and a woman are at opposite ends of a basketball court. Every five seconds, they walk half the remaining distance toward the half-court line. A scientist says, 'They will never meet,' an engineer says, 'Pretty soon, they'll be close enough for all practical purposes.'" —patmat
"The box—the scientist spends most of his life thinking outside the box. The engineer defines his own box, and never strays outside." —Alch
"Both are students of science. One maps the way while the other shapes it so that it benefits the human race. Both are equally important." —Akhilesh
"A scientist is the one who explores the principles and the laws which are the outcomes of experiments made in the laboratories or so, whereas an engineer is the one who applies these laws or principles to the materials along with the economics to materialize the thought of the products. Further, we can say that the scientist is the developer of the concept and the engineer shapes this concept to product. An engineer is the applied scientist too." —Gulshan Kumar Jawa
"Is there an impassable gap? I don't think there is an insurmountable gap between scientists and engineers. One can be a scientist and an engineer simultaneously. An engineer can make scientific discoveries and a scientist can as well build devices." —Chard
"Lab coats! We ALL know—the scientists wear the white lab coats and the engineers wear the funny hats when operating the trains!" —mark_stephen
"Engineers apply known principles and data to design and construct equipment and systems. Scientists perform experiments to develop and evaluate descriptions and laws accounting for the behavior of the world around us. There is an extensive overlap of the two endeavors and great fun in discovering new, previously unknown information and functions." —Maurysis
"Scientists research, engineers build. A scientist is someone who's paid for doing research, to discover new things, to explore new frontiers. An engineer is someone who has studied the known facts and is applying them to make or build a product which is used or then sold, such as a building, a table design, a bridge, etc. The scientist may study the bridges that have already been built to see where their structural weaknesses are, and to come up with new ways to build stronger or more stable structures in the future. The newer generation engineer would then study the newer ways of improved building, then apply those new facts and methods to the newer things he or she is involved in applying science to make them better than they were before the new scientific discoveries." —drdavid
"Here's my shot at that answer: Scientists invent or discover it and engineers make it bigger and cheaper. I have degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and have worked as both and this has been the primary difference between my two careers." —Karen

Not good enough? Here's a formal explanation of the difference between a scientist and an engineer.