1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Becoming a professor

  1. Dec 29, 2009 #1
    Hi all, I graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in August, started my job in November, and have definitely enjoyed myself. I like my job, it's a great company, and I definitely see myself staying here long term. But a question one of my supervisors posed to me about a month ago really stuck me: where do I see myself ending up? Obviously I don't want to stay in the entry level position forever, but I really hadn't thought of this that much.

    I've done some soul searching and I think I now have a basic plan. I know that step 1 of that plan is to get my Professional Engineer's License in the state of Texas. Assuming I pass everything (and that's probably a bigger if than I wanna admit), that's 4 years. Simple enough, pretty straightforward.

    Step 2 is where I'm having some problems, and I'm hoping maybe someone can give me a little direction. I want to be an engineering professor. Some of my professors in college had a profound influence on my life and the direction that I went in college, and I would really like to give back in some way, plus I have always enjoyed helping others. The problem is that I'm not terribly certain how to go about achieving this. Obviously the B.S. isn't enough, so I know I need at least a Master's, and probably even a Ph.D. But in my current situation, I'm not really close to any program with a great reputation. The local "university" has a master's program in mechanical engineering, but would it be worth getting? My company will allow me to take a personal leave, but there's no guarantee that I would be given my old job once I obtained my master's, plus I would be unemployed and contractually bound not to work for anyone whilst on my personal leave. This really puts a damper on the whole "get married and start a family" portion of my life plans.

    I guess to make a list of questions I'd like some help with:
    1) Will a master's be enough for a position somewhere as a professor?
    2) Just how important is the name on the paper?
    3) Do I have any other options of making this work with my job?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    A PhD is required for a tenured professorship in mechanical engineering at nearly every college and university in the US. The process of becoming a professor would be a tough one, involving years of graduate school (with the associated research, classes, and qualifying exams), probably years of being a post-doc to gain more experience, then about 5-10 years as an untenured professor working hard to publish and gain research funding. Notice that little of this incorporates "helping others", which is your goal. Also, a PE means little in the academic world, so this credential wouldn't be particularly useful.

    However, there is another alternative: you could teach engineering classes at a local community college or two-year college. Their requirements for a lecturer may not involve a PhD. Your PE would be evidence of practical experience and professional growth. You might be able to try out the idea by teaching a night class while you continue to work your regular job. And you'd be helping students who (often) need help getting up to speed in technical fields to get a good job in industry or to transfer to a four-year program at a college or university.

    (I graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering with similar plans. After I looked into it more, I decided that a PE would be of little use in my field, and I did end up going to grad school (though not with the goal of being a professor). In my opinion, a PE is overhyped unless you need to sign off on certain engineering designs (e.g., architectural, fire protection) or plan to market yourself as an engineer to the public.)
  4. Dec 29, 2009 #3
    I was afraid that would be the situation. I really don't know if I could care less about research at the moment, which is one of the reasons I went into the workforce. When I graduated, I was almost to the point of "If I open another textbook, I'll kill someone," so I knew that I needed a job rather than go on to grad school. Maybe when I finish getting my PE I'll be more prepared. And I realize that at the moment the PE isn't really worth a whole lot to most engineers, but it's just something that I want to do (and there is potential benefit to my employer and my position, so there is that, too).

    I think sometimes our university system has it really messed up. Most professors that I had were usually more interested in their research (due to trying to get tenure) than in trying to teach us the material. One that I had for dynamics was an extremely intelligent guy, and certainly knew the material well, but saw the students as more of a burden and that translated into how he taught the class. I understand why universities focus so much on research, it's where most of the money comes from, I just don't like it because it seems to detract from their intended primary function.

    I'll look into the teaching at night thing, and I may also see about tutoring or something for the moment. I still have to figure out how to manage the job and grad school, but I've got about 5 years to think on that one.
  5. Dec 29, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I'd would recommend talking with some of those professors who inspired one.

    Definitely get the PE. One should take the EIT or FE as soon as possible. I don't know if it is still the case, but at TAMU, engineering professors were more or less required (or strongly encouraged) to have a PE. Many of senior technical management I know in industry have PhDs and PEs. Many of the engineers I know have at least MS, and most probably have PE.

    I would strongly encourage engineers to join the engineering society in the discipline in which they practice, ASME, ASCE, IEEE, . . . . Besides an opportunity to network with other professionals, they give one access to information, materials and opportunities.
  6. Dec 29, 2009 #5
    Knowledge is the best part of your learning .. if u dont have knowledge to deliver then you have nothing.
  7. Dec 29, 2009 #6
    The only time a PE is useful for a professor is if he/she wants to do some consulting work in the industry (and the industry requires the consultant to be PE certified). Other than that, it is totally useless.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook