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Interested in cutting-edge energy research? Thinking of earning an online PhD or DEng while you continue to work in an engineering role? Use this real-world guide to the online doctorate in energy to make an informed decision about your future. Find out what’s available, what to look for, and how to pay for your doctoral studies. Or skip ahead to our listings to start mapping out your educational pathway.
- Online PhD, DEng & JD programs in energy are rare, but they do exist! Our listings contain distance learning options from an unusual array of universities.
- Online PhD programs in energy will focus on groundbreaking research topics. Online DEng programs are practice-based degrees that prepare graduates for technical leadership & management positions.
- Unlike campus-based PhD programs, most universities don’t provide financial support for online doctorates in energy. So you’ll need to think creatively about how you will fund your degree.
What Online Doctorates in Energy Are Available?
An online doctorate in energy is a niche degree for a niche field. So you won’t see a huge amount of programs in our listings. However, there are reputable universities who are willing to offer virtual learning pathways to engineers whose work is their research. And there are plenty of creative workarounds if you can’t find the exact degree title.
Here’s how to channel your search into the appropriate channel:
- Online PhD in Energy Engineering: Important for teaching at the university level, working in industrial R&D positions for companies and research labs (e.g. NREL), and/or consulting.
- Online DEng in Energy Fields: Useful for working in a technical management or engineering leadership position.
- Online JD in Energy Law: Necessary for earning a Juris Doctor (JD) in order to practice law in the United States.
Talk to trusted mentors & colleagues and read our section on job opportunities before you make the leap. Committing to a doctorate is a serious and time-consuming commitment (we’re speaking from experience here). You need to be 100% sure of your direction.
How to Choose an Online Doctorate in Energy
Online PhD Degrees in Energy Engineering
Once you reach the lofty heights of PhD studies in engineering, you have two options. You can aim for a targeted doctorate in energy engineering from our listings or you can customize an online PhD in a traditional engineering field. Both will allow you to explore energy theory & scholarship.
Energy Engineering: Choose a program like UND’s Online PhD in Energy Engineering and you’ll be completely immersed in energy studies. This 90-credit program includes 15 credits of required core courses (e.g. energy systems engineering); 15-33 credits of electives (e.g. energy systems optimization); 30-48 credits of required research; and 12 credits for a dissertation (e.g. fuel production, power generation, transmission & distribution, new technologies, environmental protection, etc.).
Related Engineering Disciplines: If you’re in love with your undergraduate major, you might consider building energy into the structure of a general engineering doctorate. Online PhD programs are now available in fields such as:
- Electrical Engineering
- Systems Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Industrial Engineering
Take Michigan Tech’s Online PhD in Mechanical Engineering as an example. It has research strengths in advanced power systems, agile microgrids, and distributed sensing for sustainable fuel production & utilization. You could use the expertise of the department to create a dissertation that dives deep into the mechanical complexities of energy production.
Whichever path you choose, come prepared with a solid undergraduate GPA. Most universities will be looking for ABET-accredited BS or MS in Engineering. However, they may be willing to consider degrees in science and engineering-related majors if you have completed certain prerequisites. Do you have a degree from a non-ABET accredited program? You could be expected to provide GRE scores.
Note: Online PhD students are going to have difficulty gaining practical experience teaching undergraduates. So if you’re aiming for an academic pathway, we’d urge you to think about applying for an on-campus PhD program.
Online DEng Degrees in Energy
DEng stands for “Doctor of Engineering.” It’s a degree that means different things in different countries. In East Asia, it can be the equivalent of a PhD. But in the United States, it’s usually a practice-based qualification for folks who are interested in technical leadership & management positions. And although it contains applied research, it’s not designed to prepare you for academic or R&D positions.
- The DEng is shorter than a PhD (e.g. 3 years vs. 4-5 years).
- Funding for your degree could come from an industry or public sector partner.
- Coursework often includes business topics such as finance, product innovation, and project management.
- The final research project might be a portfolio of prototypes, plans & patent applications or a mandatory professional internship instead of 5-chapter dissertation.
Since this is a doctorate that’s focused on practice & application, many folks pursue an Online DEng after earning an MS and spending some time working in an engineering sector. If you’re involved in an energy field, do some groundwork to find out if the program can be adjusted to suit your goals. For instance, Penn State’s Online DEng includes specific electives in renewable energy & sustainability systems.
Online JD Degrees in Energy Law
A Juris Doctor (JD) is required to take the bar exam and practice law in the United States. You can pursue one after you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree. And—thanks to schools like the ABA-accredited Vermont Law School—you can even earn an Online Hybrid JD with a concentration in energy law.
You don’t need to earn a JD in order to gain legal expertise. There are a number of online master’s programs in energy law that are open to BS and MS applicants who’d like a better understanding of the topic. The JD is specifically designed for folks who wish to practice as attorneys.
Online Doctorate in Energy: What to Look For
Institutional & Program Accreditation
Online doctorates in energy are unusual. Although your academic transcript won’t say “Online PhD,” hiring committees can easily look up the program. So it never hurts to be prepared for some challenging questions from employers. For instance, they may want to know if your degree has:
- Regional Accreditation: All of the universities in our listings have been accredited by one of six regional accrediting organizations (e.g. HLC) in the USA.
- Engineering Accreditation: Any Online PhD in Energy Engineering should come from a College or School of Engineering that also offers ABET-accredited programs. (ABET doesn’t accredit doctorates.)
- Law School Accreditation: Any Online JD in Energy Law should come from an ABA-accredited law school.
Energy Research Credentials
Research is usually the factor that makes or breaks your doctoral experience. Pick a doctoral program that has dedicated engineering professors and fascinating industry projects and you’re golden. Pick one without those factors, and you’ll be chewing the walls at every step of the process. You’re about to spend years exploring a research topic—choose your school wisely.
- Start by investigating what’s happening within the College of Engineering and its associated partners (e.g. UND’s Institute for Energy Studies and Energy & Environmental Research Center).
- Contact faculty who are working in your areas of interest—do they have suggestions for exciting realms of research? Do they have alternative ideas you haven’t thought of?
- Think about whether you’d be a good fit for the program. Read through a list of recent dissertation topics or final research projects. Find out where graduates are now employed.
- Inquire if there’s PhD funding available for students in your area of research. Is that funding likely to remain stable?
- Consider whether your potential PhD research project ideas are viable within the online program. For example, online students would be capable of completing a dissertation designed around computational modeling; a wet-lab research project may only be possible for students physically located on campus.
Remember, too, that you’re not alone in this quest! Many PhD and DEng graduates who belong to industry organizations and appear on sites such as LinkedIn are open to providing advice. They can point you towards a great research group or away from a program that’s losing its respect in the industry.
Program Flexibility & On-Campus Requirements
If you’re searching for online PhD or DEng programs, we’re assuming that you’ve got a full calendar. When you’re putting together your shortlist, be sure to ask the program coordinator how the program is structured. Online doctoral degrees in energy or energy engineering often contain:
- Asynchronous & Synchronous Elements: Asynchronous means you can study on your own time. Lectures may be prerecorded and discussion threads & chat rooms may be left open for contributions. Synchronous learning involves real-time elements like Zoom chats and virtual classes in the evenings or weekends.
- On-Campus Requirements: For example, UND’s Online PhD in Energy Engineering contains a minimum of three campus visits with a presentation for each visit. Most PhD programs will want to see you in person for your oral presentation for your qualifying exam and PhD dissertation defense; others will require specific periods on campus (say 1-2 semesters). DEng programs may be a little more flexible.
Think about how you’re going to incorporate courses and independent research into your life. Can you reduce your work schedule to part-time hours? Can you take a year or two off when you start writing up your dissertation? PhD programs are typically full-time affairs with punishing schedules. Chat to current students and recent alumni to get a sense of how they’re managing their studies.
Career Preparation & Industry Connections
Whether you’re currently employed in an energy position or hoping to explore new realms of research, you still deserve to have job support. Look for online doctoral programs that build career elements into each year of the degree. Will there be:
- Opportunities to submit papers or patents to important peer-reviewed journals?
- Funding available for subsidized travel to academic conferences, research facilities, and industry meetings?
- Help in applying for energy-related postdoctoral fellowships & programs (e.g. NREL’s Director’s Fellowship, the CSEI Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, the Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship, etc.)?
- Internships, practicum experiences, or work-related projects that are embedded in the coursework?
- Mentoring and networking opportunities?
Each doctoral program is going to have a different support system in place. Some online PhD degrees may be focused on prepping you for hyper-specific research positions. But others could be designed to help engineers in senior management understand complex energy systems. Dig around a little before making your decision.
Online Doctorate in Energy FAQs
What Jobs Are Available for Online PhD in Energy Graduates?
We’ll start by noting that a large quantity of jobs in energy fields are open to BS or MS graduates. Many folks in senior-level positions have a sturdy MS, relevant work experience, and the right certifications & licenses (e.g. PE, CEM®, PMP®, etc.).
However, an on-campus or online PhD is going to come in handy if you are looking at roles such as:
- Senior Researcher
- Manager/Director of Research Groups
- R&D Positions
- University Professor
- Energy Consultant
- Government Advisor
Big-name energy companies may prefer to hire PhD graduates for corporate research and design & development teams. The same holds true for research-focused government agencies & labs. When in doubt, look up the names of people working for companies & labs that you admire. What level of degree do they hold?
Should I Earn an Online PhD in Engineering or Online DEng?
Online PhD: Professionals who want to delve into groundbreaking research, contribute something new to their field, and qualify for R&D openings should consider the Online PhD in Energy Engineering. With a PhD, you’ll also be eligible to teach undergraduates.
Online DEng: Mid-career folks who wish to advance in their practice and use existing knowledge to solve real-world problems can also investigate the Online DEng in Energy Fields. DEng graduates may serve as adjuncts, but they’re not hired as university professors.
Can I Earn an Online PhD in Energy While I’m Working?
Absolutely. It’s not going to be easy, but many PhD students in engineering and energy fields work full-time and study part-time. As always, we recommend you speak to recent alumni to ask them how they made it through the gauntlet. You should find opportunities to incorporate your dissertation research into your workplace.
Will an Online Doctorate in Energy Be Respected?
It depends on the reputation of the school and the rigor of the program. As we mentioned, it’s not going to say “Online PhD” or “Online DEng” on your academic transcript. But hiring committees know how to use search engines. Make sure your university has a sturdy track record in engineering and solid job placements for graduates.
How Much Does an Online Doctorate in Energy Cost?
Unlike on-campus PhD programs, which are often fully or partially funded, online PhD programs come with a substantial price tag. For a distance learning PhD in an energy-related engineering field, you could be paying $15,000-$30,000 per year for tuition & fees. Or, to put it another way, around $900-$1,500 per credit. Public universities such as UND may offer a tuition discount to in-state residents. But it’s still going to be a costly prospect.
Online DEng programs tend to have a higher per credit cost (e.g. $1,000-$1,600 per credit), but they’re also shorter than PhD programs. And they’re usually subsidized by employers or industrial partners. Speaking of which…
How Can I Pay for an Online Doctorate in Energy?
The best way to find funding for an online PhD or DEng in energy is to talk to your employer. You can cut down on your price tag substantially with industry support. If they’re willing to help subsidize your education & research, enroll in a reasonable part-time plan of study. You’ll continue working and they won’t be hit with a huge bill every semester.
You’ll still have to investigate the usual options for graduate funding—including loans, scholarships, fellowships, and savings—but you don’t have to do this alone. Make a time to chat with the program coordinator about your situation. They may be able to direct you to special education opportunities from research labs and companies.