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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

    Mapes

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    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

    Astronuc

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    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.
     
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