Frequently Asked Questions
What is acoustics?
Acoustics is the science that studies the production, control, transmission, reception, and effects of sound. Direct applications include noise control, SONAR for submarine navigation, ultrasounds for medical imaging, thermoacoustic refrigeration, seismology, bioacoustics, electroacoustic communication, and many more. The scope of acoustics is large, and encompasses Earth Sciences, Engineering, Life Sciences, and the Arts. Visit exploresound.org for even more information!
What do acousticians do?
There are many different kinds of acousticians. A bio-acoustician might research bird populations to determine whether or not human-made noise disrupts them. An audiologist can diagnose hearing impairments and research how to improve hearing loss. An acoustical architect could design an opera house so that people in the audience can enjoy the music to the fullest. A scientist specializing in noise could do work to reduce noise caused by airplanes, cars and trains. An underwater acoustician might design sophisticated sonar hardware to explore the ocean floor while an acoustician interested in ultrasound could develop medical equipment to destroy kidney stones. This is just a small subset of what some acousticians do! Acousticians generate valuable information which can be used in many fields to examine and apply the science of sound. Above the B.S. level, the range of possibilities become quite broad, and students tend to specialize in one area of acoustics.
What careers are available to an acoustician?
The field is VERY interdisciplinary and provides many options. Acoustics offers diverse career opportunities dependent on your interests and expertise. Studying acoustics can lead to job opportunities in three main categories: academia, industry, and laboratory positions. Most people who practice acoustics beyond acoustical consulting usually have graduate degrees.
- With a graduate degree in acoustics, one can teach in a university department such as physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science, speech pathology, audiology, biomedicine, music, or even linguistics.
- Large companies will often have an acoustician analyze the acoustics and vibrations of the systems/products that the company develops, maintains, or studies.
- Acousticians find careers doing research in laboratory research topics, often government or national laboratories.
Visit exploresound.org to read acoustician career profiles.
Does the ASA offer recommendations for individuals for colleges?
The ASA does not provide recommendations for individuals, however the ASA acoustics program directory can be used to find an institution or research lab in acoustics.
Which schools offer classes in acoustics?
Many universities offer individual acoustics and acoustics related courses, though they may not be listed as ‘acoustics’ courses. Be sure to search the course catalogue for key words related to the acoustics field you are interested in. Schools that have graduate programs in acoustics will also have undergraduate offerings.
What should I study during my undergraduate degree in order to prepare for a career in acoustics?
There is no single path to a career in acoustics, and it is dependent on what field of acoustics you wish to enter, and how far you plan on taking your education. Click here to see different fields of acoustics. The best undergraduate degree to prepar you for animal bioacoustics is not likely to be the same as the one for musical acoustics. A good piece of advice is to find people doing work you would like to do and see what their educational path looked like.
Concerning Engineering – If a B.A or B.S is your terminal degree, a degree in Mechanical Engineering (M.E.), Electrical Engineering (E.E.), or Physics will be best for job placement. Many employers will favor an M.E. or E.E. undergraduate degree over a Physics degree, and will seek to fill entry level positions with engineers. However if one plans on graduate level training, the job opportunities depend on the work done during the thesis or dissertation. If you plan on pursuing a degree in M.E. or E.E., try to find a program that offers some acoustics and vibrations undergraduate courses, as not all programs offer them. It may be useful to find an M.E. or E.E. program at a school that has graduate programs in acoustics, as there may be professors who are willing to take on undergraduate researchers – this is an excellent way to gain early exposure and experience in acoustics. Most B.S.-level acoustics jobs are given to students from an engineering program (often civil, architectural, mechanical, and electrical).
If you are interested in acoustical consulting (noise and vibration control, acoustical design of buildings), then an undergraduate degree in architectural or civil engineering might be the best route to find a job in that field.
Are there any schools that offer undergraduate degrees in acoustics?
Yes, however most are oriented toward audio-production and recording arts and science. These programs usually result in a B.A. rather than a B.S. This trend is driven by the amount of professions available with the status of modern media.
Remember that a degree in acoustics may not actually be the best preparation for the field of acoustics you wish to enter. Acousticians have undergraduate degrees in architecture, biology, linguistics, music, neuroscience, physiology, psychology and many others.
It is a good idea to search through the ASA acoustics program database to find schools that offer acoustics undergraduate degrees or have established acoustics research labs.
Are there any summer research opportunities for undergraduates interested in acoustics?
The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) offers a paid summer undergraduate research program for students interested in the area of Acoustics called SURIEA. This intensive summer program in acoustics is designed for minority undergraduates from across the country.
Additionally, there are a number of paid research opportunities for undergraduate students through the National Science Foundation REU Sites program. Visit the Explore Sound website to view some of the acoustics related research sites.
I’m interested in speech and hearing related acoustics jobs – what should I study in undergraduate?
For these fields in acoustics, an undergraduate degree in linguistics, psychology, audiology, communications sciences, etc., are much more common than engineering.
How hard is the math?
It is important to keep in mind that the type of math involved varies from field to field. For example, people working on the acoustics of speech are not likely to use the same type of math as people working in aeroacoustics. To get a sense of the math involved, you can take review the program requirements, often listed on the school website.
Concerning acoustics and physics – At the graduate level, students coming from Physics B.S., M.E., or E.E. programs tend to have an easier time with the mathematics than students who majored in something else. For this reason, it is recommended that a student study Physics, M.E., or E.E. if they intend on going to grad school, unless acoustical consulting is the end goal. This is to ensure than the student is prepared for graduate level study.
How can I get involved in acoustics?
Visit http://asachapters.org/asa-chapter-locations/ in order to find a local ASA chapter.
Are there learning initiatives in the ASA?
Yes – visit https://asaedcom.org/ or http://exploresound.org/additional-resources/ to explore
Specific questions about the industry
A good resource to learn about the industry is the National Council of Acoustical Consultants (ncac.com/).