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Programs Anyone else drop their PhD program?

  1. Dec 20, 2007 #1
    My back story is below if you care to read it, but my questions to you are:

    What was your experience after quitting your PhD program?
    Do employers look down on the fact that you got out of a PhD position without completing it?
    Did you continue to pursue employment in the same field that you were in graduate school for?

    My story...

    After a tumultuous personal battle, this year I decided to get out of my engineering (mech/aero) PhD program for various reasons. This decision took place at the end of September/beginning of October and during that time I immediately began to apply for a position in the private space industry (which it looks like I have a slim chance of breaking into) along with several commercial aircraft/space companies.

    I've sent out many resumes and I'm still waiting to hear back from a lot of companies. I had one potential job that I was turned down for.

    I think my resume is decent, because I never had a problem with grades in undergraduate studies, but I severely lack in industry-related job experience. I have worked in a completely unrelated engineering field (civil/transportation for 3 summer internships) because of my first job out of highschool, but I never had intentions of staying in civil transportation.

    I was also told at the beginning of my PhD program that I couldn't get a masters because I was going direct PhD (same college as undergrad), although I recently found out that I could possibly apply for a nonthesis masters.

    By the way, I'm not opposed to learning at all, I want real world experience (and the chance to actually make enough money to save some). Over this break I've even been studying optimal control theory because I'm rusty on controls, I recently took a structural optimization course, and I can pick up some programming (C for simplicity) skills along the way.

    Any advice you want to give is welcome. I've been a lurker on physicsforums off and on for probably 4-5 years now.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 20, 2007 #2


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    I dropped out of the math PhD program in 1970 after a distraction from the vietnam war. I wAS LUCKY AND STILL FOUND A JOb as a math faculty member at a small college, but on the condition i eventually obtain a phd.

    after 4 years i took leave and went back to grad school, and wound up resigning my job to spend an extra year getting a better degree.

    so it was really not feasible for me to find good employment with no Phd, and i was really glad i finished. Even though I told myself I wS A GOOD AS THE GUYS WHO HAD THEM, THE TRUTH WAS I had not really broken the ice of doing original research until i got it.

    The PhD changed my life, opening doors to contacts at Harvard and abroad, and I have never regretted making the effort of getting it.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2007
  4. Dec 20, 2007 #3
    Thanks mathwonk, were you certain before hand that you wanted to do research in an academic environment?
  5. Dec 21, 2007 #4


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    I'm also a "failed PhD student". i was at Northwestern (Electrical Engineering) in the 80s and left ABD. I always wanted to do research in music synthesis and sound processing and that was, at the time, looked upon by EECS faculty as "not real engineering". their attitude was that if it wasn't something that some IEEE transaction paid attention to, it was pretend engineering.

    i learned some things and met the person who since became my spouse during that era, so it wasn't a total loss.

    when there was still a hope that the dissertation and degree would be completed, i did teach Electrical Engineering at the U of Southern Maine breifly (wonk, this is why I know that this difference in semantic regarding the Dirac delta function is a difference between disciplines of math and EE, not something that i pulled out of my butt). but when i told the dean that i didn't see completion of the dissertation as forthcoming, that's when my academic career began to end.
  6. Dec 21, 2007 #5
    rbj, did you make it out with anything like a Master's at all?
  7. Dec 21, 2007 #6


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    i always wanted to be a mathematician in academia, but the likelihood of that waxed and waned through various life situations.
  8. Dec 24, 2007 #7


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    yes, from my previous school, University of North Dakota. i left with nothing from Northwestern except some knowledge gained from the computer music studio there, more knowledge gained from the EE and Applied Math classes i took, more knowledge gained from seeing from the inside how a "prestigious research institution" (how they viewed themselves) sees reality and does things (the arrogance was pretty bad). i doubt that i would have even gotten my foot in the door at the USM if i had no Masters degree along with state of ABD (they were willing to hire, provisionally, someone who was ABD).

    Greg, it's not the same quantity as it would have to be if i was in academics, but i have a publication record. i dunno if wonk thinks this or not, but a lot of mathematicians think that my math understanding is pretty Neanderthal (because of that Dirac delta thing i bring up occasionally), but other signal processing engineers (and academics in engineering) respect it. there is a lot of math that i do not know (e.g. tensor calculus, so i can't do anything in GR beyond the basic concepts) simply because we do not use it in digital or analog signal processing. but signal processing (and communications systems) makes use of a lot of reasonably sophisticated applied math (from calc and diff eq. to all sorts of linear algebra, matrix theory and Fourier analysis, to probability, random variables, and random processes, to complex variables and functions, to metric spaces and functional analysis, to approximation theory and numerical methods). i'm not a mathematician as wonk is, but the maths that i deal with, i know very well. and some of it i have taught (what we EEs call "Linear System Theory" or more recently "Signals and Systems") in different university settings (sometimes as a visiting adjunct, which seems to rank somewhere below grad student at some of these schools). presently i am designing synthesis and signal processing algorithms at one of the few remaining companies that still manufactures hardware music synthesizers.
  9. Dec 24, 2007 #8


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    looks more like it waxed: http://www.math.uga.edu/~roy/ , wonk. no?
  10. Jan 4, 2008 #9
    Thanks guys.

    I'm trying to keep myself busy now. I've been firing off resumes and applications for over 3 months so far and I still have no offers (haven't even gotten an interview, eek), though I think there's a chance I might hear from Boeing soon (they had me fill out an additional application for a specific job, I'm hoping they call me).

    I expected to have something lined up right now, but that didn't happen and I'm trying to keep in mind that I did the right thing by getting out of the PhD program.
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