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A PhD in engineering: Overkill?

I decided to post here instead of a grad school community because I don't want to lament to a Literature major who needs a PhD to do anything related to his/her field. I figured this community prolly have a good number of engineers employed after a BS or a MS. I'm only wrapping up my 2nd year in a doctoral program but have developed this terrible habit of late:

Looking at job postings on Monster, especially the ones with a salary range

I still love my research but the money I'm losing by staying in school is mind-blowing. I could buy a house (yes, even a tiny one here in CA) with the loss by the end of the sixth year. I'm also hitting that age where all my friends have started buying homes, having kids and all that adult thing. But I am enrolled in a top-3 program and I'm afraid that I would regret quitting from such a rare opportunity over wanting more money.

Before going back to grad school, I already passed the EIT and clocked in enough work experience to do the PE. That'd been so much easier and cheaper on me.

Anybody care to discuss the advantage of a PhD in engineering outside of academia? (Yourself? A Colleague? A supervisor?]I pretty much know I don't want to be a professor. All the mid-level jobs I've seen require just an MS and so-&-so many years of experience. I especially would love to compare the "PhD"; "PhD, PE" and "PE" experiences. For engineers with BS and MS, do you even want to ever go back to school for a PhD?



( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 30th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
Research has definitely treated me better than my stint in consulting.

If you don't mind:
Are there a lot of research in your field done outside of universities? How competitive are those positions?
Mar. 30th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
agreed. when I started grad school, my advisor asked me why I was only an MS student. so I asked her why I should go on for a PhD. her answer was "with a PhD, you'll be running your own research projects. with an MS, you'll be doing someone else's research". I think my exact response was, "ok...and?"

while I don't mind doing research, it wasn't a top priority for me, I'd rather be hands-on (I currently work in a hospital doing clinical things and I love my job), so not having the pressure of having to come up with new projects or bring in research money is fantastic. I don't mind working on other peoples' research projects, so I have no desire to ever go back and get my PhD.
Mar. 30th, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)
I do not have a PhD, I don't yet have my Master's. However, I feel I have more than enough experience in academia to say this:

The only reason you should be doing a PhD is because you want to.

If you don't want to be there, it will be an ever-lengthing and miserable experience. You've said you don't want to be a professor, so it is not something that you will ever need to have. Do it because you want to be in a rare and prestigious program, or do it because you love research, or don't do it at all. If money is all you want, then it's highly unlikely that finishing will make you more money than it would cost.

If it helps you want to be there, two years over the course of your life is basically nothing. There is no harm in applying to jobs while you are in grad school. I know several people who stayed in grad school until a job opportunity they really wanted arose, and then they took it and didn't look back.
Mar. 30th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
I just finished my Masters and, as far as I am concerned, I am done. Research just isn't my cup of tea. If I ever wanted for education, I would probably get a second Masters.

I think how lucrative a PhD is depends, to some extent, on field. A friend of mine in Civil Engineering was told that she would NEVER recoup the monetary loss of getting a PhD in Civil and that if she went for it, it should be for the love of the field or a desire to teach. My husband is an Electrical Engineer (BS), Computer Engineer (MS) and he routinely sees job postings that ask for a PhD or offer a much higher salary for candidates with a PhD. So in those fields it might be worth it.

To me, the most important thing is doing what you love. If you enjoy your research, screw the money, there are more important things. If you are feeling "blah" about your research, bow out with your Masters and work for a bit.
Mar. 30th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
Er, "If I ever wanted MORE education, I would probably get a second Masters."
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
This may not be what you want to hear, but where I work, at least, a PhD in engineering is the "kiss of death." We see PhD and think "Is this person going to be bored at this job? How long can we count on them to stick around?" so just be aware of that.
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:04 am (UTC)
In contrast, where I'm interning this summer, there are a ton of PhDs as there are MScis, and I didn't meet anyone in my department (they flew me down for my interview) that didn't have and wasn't pursuing a graduate education. (That said, I was only on campus for about 2 hours and I didn't tour the facility for my group - and only talked to the individuals that had been invited to the "Meet and Greet" session.) In fact, one of the things emphasized to me is that they've got several programs in place for individuals who wish to get their PhD while on the job. It's considered very prestigious and a good career move to do so (there is a point in the food chain where a PhD is a requirement to advance).

BUT, it's a company that does a ton of R&D.

And the group I'm with is a little ... different ... because many of them played the discipline switching game in grad school (primarily going from EE to ME or vice versa).
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
(I meant to mention: I'm working on my MSci, as is the other intern they hired.)
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
I have a masters in Mech E. I've occasionally thought about going back for a PhD - I did enjoy the research I did for my masters and I miss that and in some ways I'd like to do more. and the last time I was jobsearching I did find that the high level research jobs (like at government labs) did require a PhD. But I think I've decided that staying in industry (at least for now) is probably good enough for me and may very well make me happier in the end.

My current job is pretty boring though. Need to get off my butt and look for a better one.
Mar. 30th, 2007 07:46 pm (UTC)
Two of my coworkers (large aerospace company) have PhD's. One is... frustrating, to say the least. He clearly thinks he's better than all of us, he's condescending, and he really doesn't do any work because he thinks he's above that. I would say that his PhD was just expensive ego-stroking and did not do anything to improve his worth as an employee or a human being. (I probably wouldn't be quite so harsh on a different day, but he's been extra-rude today.)

The other coworker is one of the smartest guys I know at this company. He works hard and he has the knowledge to back it up. I do think that his PhD gets him a little more respect around here, because there aren't a lot of engineering PhD's in our area.

So, my take is that it really depends on the person. How much longer do you have? If you're in year two and it's a six year program, I might seriously consider going to work at a company that will sponsor you to finish the PhD. That way, you're getting money, work experience, AND the PhD.
Mar. 30th, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
In my field (electronics, analog electronics in particular), getting a PhD is a definite plus if you want to do any corporate R&D. Actually, out of the twenty or so students my advisor has graduated, I'm pretty sure only two of them are actually in academia. That said, I've heard from other people that I'm lucky that my field has so many non-academic jobs, because it's not the case for everyone.

I actually have seen a lot of job postings for R&D in my field that specifically request a PhD.
Mar. 30th, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)
I might not even go back for an MS, just an MBA maybe. My bosses don't have a problem with this.
Mar. 30th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
MSME here with 2 years in industry (.5 as a staff project engineer, 1.5 as a mill engineer). The only way they'll get me back into grad school is bound and gagged.

If you're in your 2nd year of a PhD program, it's awfully late in the game to quit unless you aren't progressing. If you've stalled in your research and can't get back on track then it's time to cut your losses and start working (and paying down the massive debt you're statistically certain to have accumulated). Also, if you are progressing, but hate your field and shudder at the thought of working within such narrow bounds for the rest of your career, it's time to leave before your degree pigeonholes you for good.

If you love your research, feel fulfilled by your work, get along with your advisor, are continuing to learn new things, have funding, your field has great propsects in industry/academia, are keeping your head above water financially, and really want to run your own programs, then stick with it. Don't get hung up on what the Jonses are doing. Remember, when you were 16, you could have dropped out of school and made $10/hour when your friends were sitting in school making nothing.
Mar. 30th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)
Agreeing with everyone else. Getting a PhD is for the privilege of conducting research or being the boss of an R&D department. For me, getting a PhD is exciting.
So ask yourself what it is you want to do with life. Don't give up yet if research is what you want to do. Look back on all the years you've invested in school. You're almost done!
Mar. 30th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)
I've got an MS and have had my fill of school for this decade . . .

In my experience a PhD is not as much of a career boost as having the same number of years working in industry. The exception is some specific fields needing that level of training (ie, chip design).

The grave danger of a PhD is that you get trained to analyze small problems in great detail, while your boss in industry needs a large problem solved well enough to support the next design iteration. This can cause, um, friction.

So I'd suggest looking at the kinds of jobs you're pulling up and asking how much you'd enjoy them. Then look at the most appealing one and see if the PhD would make you better at it. If the answer is no, apply for it.
Mar. 31st, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)
Just a couple more data points, since you asked...
I landed my current job after finishing my MS in mechanical engineering. I am working in research for a medical device company, and they are paying for my PhD, using work related research as the basis for my dissertation. I never intended to go back to school after my masters, but this seemed too good to pass up. Looking around here, we have an R&D department of ~130 engineers and 10 of them have PhDs. These people run technology development groups or manage research projects. It seems that PhDs are actively sought out for bioengineering jobs in industry, and there isn't the "overqualified" stigma that was expressed in earlier posts.

For contrast, we have two Professional Engineers. One isn't even licensed in our state. I don't think it is a priority for the company, it was mentioned once in a meeting encouraging people to sit for the exam. For what it is worth, I am taking the PE exam in Oct. I think it is important, there might be someone that is looking to hire me someday that agrees. If nothing else, it is doesn't hurt.

For the W/WW field: (based on your preliminary research title, I assume this is your area)
My wife has a Master's in environmental engineering, and has worked in water/wastewater design for a while. When she was in consulting, there were no PhDs (lots of people with MS degrees), and a lot of PEs. It was kind of a job requirement, and important to your usefulness to the company. Now that she works for a municipality, it is the same way.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )