to PhD, or not to PhD

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to PhD, or not to PhD

Postby 22/7 » Tue Jul 10, 2007 4:29 pm UTC

Ok, so I'm an ME who just graduated and is about to start work on my master's degree. I'm planning on doing my concentration (and my thesis) in the area of "fluids and thermals" as it's come to be known by the undergrads. However, I've currently got no industry experience (which kind of led me to grad school in the first place) and am not sure if I should be considering doing a doctorate or not. Is there anything outside of teaching that you can do with a doctorate? Is it true that if you're planning on going into industry, a PhD is a hindrence because you're "overqualified" and no one will want to pay you what you're worth, etc.?

Anyway, figured there would be someone here who has been through this before, either in ME or Math or any of a number of other concentrations.
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Re: to PhD, or not to PhD

Postby evilbeanfiend » Tue Jul 10, 2007 4:50 pm UTC

22/7 wrote: Is it true that if you're planning on going into industry, a PhD is a hindrence because you're "overqualified" and no one will want to pay you what you're worth, etc.?


not in general (though its certainly possible), and you wont necessarily get much more (or possibly any more) pay than someone starting work after their degree. you also probably wont be able to get on to the graduate schemes that large companies run, although this can be considered a blessing.
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Postby QuantumTroll » Tue Jul 10, 2007 7:46 pm UTC

From what I've been hearing, the marginal benefits of degrees higher than BS depend a lot on the specific field, job market, and yourself.

If you want a job, a BS will usually get you one. An MS is great if you want a particular job or to work in a particular field. A PhD helps you get into research position. The pay increase between a qualified MS doing engineering work and a PhD doing research is small, but the chance of working on something cool is higher. Also, the doors to academia open up.

I'm also just going to start an MS. Given my experience with industry, I think I'll stay in school until I die, be it as a student or professor. I'm not a fan of cubicles and too many rules...
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Postby Vaniver » Tue Jul 10, 2007 10:56 pm UTC

For engineers, generally it's wiser to get work experience, then come back and get a Masters.

If you want to go into academia, get a PhD. If you want to be able to put "Dr." in front of your name, get a PhD. If you want to do engineering work, don't, or at least not for a while.
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Postby BlochWave » Tue Jul 10, 2007 11:43 pm UTC

Any job that requires a masters is also gonna require relevant work experience, keep that in mind
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Postby Solt » Wed Jul 11, 2007 2:23 am UTC

Scenario: Space Technology Corp gets a contract to build the next-generation rocket for the Mars mission. They go around hiring experts in the relevant fields to do cutting edge research. You, having a PhD in Thermo and Fluids and some great research, get hired without an interview.

5 years later: The bulk of the research has been completed and the new (brilliant and revolutionary, thanks to your contribution) rocket technology is almost ready. The managers at Space Technology Corp see their bottom line growing and want to pull a profit, obviously. So they decide to cut out the unnecessary parts of the program. They see you in the research division with your fat, PhD salary and realize that they don't need you anymore. All the cutting edge research is done, what exactly are you contributing? All future models of the rocket will be derivatives of the first, and they've already got your research. They don't need you anymore. So they give you a big thank you, maybe a plaque, and let you go. You try to get a job in another field (supersonic transport, maybe? I dunno) but no, your specialty is rockets; that's what you do. If no one needs to build a rocket now? Well then you're screwed. In industry anyway. I imagine you'd end up in academia or doing something you didn't originally study for.


I'm still a student (also ME, year 3) so this could be bullshit, or it could be true. I dunno. Best thing to do is talk to people with experience, especially people in the relevant industry with PhDs.
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Postby dryfire » Wed Jul 11, 2007 4:09 am UTC

I'm also a 3rd year ME student. I plan to get a masters and then attempt to find a job I really like, should that fail I plan to get a PhD.

If money is your main objective a PhD really isn't the best way to go about it. It's very possible for a BS in ME to make more than a MS in ME, especially if you want to work in sales/marketing. I was at a recruiting party for a local company that sells fans, a few of their sales engineers make ~150k/year.

If becoming a tenured professor is on your to-do list after getting a PhD, that's fine, but getting tenure may just be harder than getting your PhD.
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Postby miles01110 » Wed Jul 11, 2007 6:47 am UTC

Google hires PhDs...
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Wed Jul 11, 2007 8:24 am UTC

solt it doesn't happen like that apart from a few people (and they are probably have years of experience after their phd). someone who has just got their doctorate will have to interview like everyone else and will more or less be paid like everyone else too, and :. have the same job security as everyone else.
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Postby Solt » Wed Jul 11, 2007 9:17 am UTC

evilbeanfiend wrote:and will more or less be paid like everyone else too


Well then, what would be the point of spending 6 extra years in college?

While I'm not defending the truthfuleness of what I wrote, I would imagine that when layoff time comes around, PhDs go first. It's more important to retain managerial talent than technical talent. And it's better to retain generalized technical talent than highly specialized.
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Wed Jul 11, 2007 9:44 am UTC

your phd should have value in itself, otherwise why not do an mba instead?
in some fields it will get you slightly more interesting work in others it will get you the same work

in my experience 1st to go are usually any contractors (as they cost a lot more than full time employees), HR and training people.

the hire-fire cycle you described certainly does exist in some businesses (especially in the space hardware sector as the jobs are few and far between, but massive when they come in) but having a phd or not will not effect if you are up for the cull
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Postby 22/7 » Wed Jul 11, 2007 3:04 pm UTC

Well this is certainly becoming a more varied thread than I expected. So here's a question.

So here's a question, I've had more than one person tell me that I should finish my masters and then get an mba. I personally have little or no respect for business majors, but that's probably largely due to the university I attend. (As a math major/lover, tutoring business calc is something along the lines of removing your own toes with a pair of pliers... it's called a derivative, dammit!)

All that said, I've also been told that, with an mba and an MSME, you can pretty much "write your own ticket," or choose your career path for those of you not from the midwest.
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Wed Jul 11, 2007 3:20 pm UTC

an mba gives you easy access to management jobs which is usually the quickest way to big bucks.
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Postby Yakk » Wed Jul 11, 2007 9:30 pm UTC

To quote a PhD student friend of mine:

You should go into academia because there is a problem you find interesting that you want to solve.

Being a masters student or a PhD means that you will have your basic living expenses covered, and have lots of time to work on your problem.

Becoming a prof means you will have relatively lots of time to work on your research, and a comfy salary.

Getting tenure means you have even more time to work on your research.

Getting grant money means you have even more money to spend on your research.

Note that you aren't getting rich -- you might have millions of dollars to spend on your research, but your take home salary will be lower than what you would get for the same amount of effort going into a private company job.

If you don't want to research the solutions to problems -- if that doesn't motivate you above and beyond getting paid more -- then maybe academia isn't for you.
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Thu Jul 12, 2007 9:02 am UTC

yes yakks friend covers one side, the other side being you shouldn't worry about being overqualified, you will find work with a phd.
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Postby 22/7 » Thu Jul 12, 2007 2:41 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:To quote a PhD student friend of mine:

Being a masters student or a PhD means that you will have your basic living expenses covered, and have lots of time to work on your problem.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that's really only true with a handful of masters students. The numbers may get better for PhDs, but I'm certainly not getting any of my "basic living expenses" paid for.

Which is good, because I'd just spend it on beer...
Totally not a hypothetical...

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bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
Don't want to be.
I want to be!
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Thu Jul 12, 2007 2:47 pm UTC

certainly in the uk you would expect to have your living expenses covered for any science phd
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Postby 22/7 » Thu Jul 12, 2007 3:09 pm UTC

evilbeanfiend wrote:certainly in the uk you would expect to have your living expenses covered for any science phd


PhD, maybe. Master's? No. Well, not for everyone, anyway.

And just out of curiousity, when you say you'd have your living expenses covered, by who? And what's the deal? Is the university paying for it? The gov? Is it like a low percentage loan? Do you have to agree to work for someone afterwards?
Totally not a hypothetical...

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bigglesworth wrote:If your economic reality is a choice, then why are you not as rich as Bill Gates?
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I want to be!
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Postby bippy » Thu Jul 12, 2007 3:23 pm UTC

22/7 wrote:And just out of curiousity, when you say you'd have your living expenses covered, by who? And what's the deal? Is the university paying for it? The gov? Is it like a low percentage loan? Do you have to agree to work for someone afterwards?


Grad students are usually taken on by an advisor who most often has some grant money to support them. Sometimes the department will offer some type of assistance, especially in fields (like math) where everyone isn't working on a grant all the time. Universities usually offer awards, usually competitive, merit based thingies, to the best of the incoming bunch across all departments. The government is a source of support to the universities and the departments, as well as a place students can go to apply for loans but also to get fellowships and such; NSF is the main funding agency for non-biological research in the US and offers some fellowships for instance. Some companies will agree to put you through school on either a full or partial tuition reimbursement and usually there is a requirement attached that you stay with them for a while so they can get their money's worth out of you.
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Postby miles01110 » Thu Jul 12, 2007 4:35 pm UTC

In the larger universities, a PhD education is almost totally paid for as far as tuition and (most of the time) rent / living expense. You "earn" this by working as a TA for undergrads during the year (often for multiple years).

Don't get me wrong- the stipend (beyond tuition) isn't much, but you can live on it.
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