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Career decisions PhD?

  1. Dec 15, 2006 #1
    Career decisions...PhD???

    So I need to figure out what I am going to do after graduation. Currently I am a double major in EE and physics and I will graduate spring '08. I really enjoy studying physics, and have seriously considered graduate school (PhD, career in academic research perhaps) in physics. For a long time I had this in mind, and thought this is what I was going to do for sure.

    But upon further consideration, I thought it might be just as good of an option to go into industry as an engineer, work my way up the ladder a bit, and then get a masters in EE, as I want to work on the more advanced research...not the paper shuffling work. After a while I would possibly get an MBA and manage a research lab.

    The PhD sounds great, and the thought of having a cushy professorship at a good university is nice, where I have great job flexibility and security, and I get to spend my days learning what I love. However, it's a long hard road to get there, consisting of 5 years of grad school and 2-3 years of postdoc before I get ahold of a tenure track faculty position, or decent government lab position, and I will be in my late 20s early 30s at this point, and I won't be making that great of money. However, money isn't the important thing to me...I just want to make a comfortable living. I also don't want to despise my job 20 years from now, or 10 years from now. I want to look forward to getting up in the morning and going into work everyday, for my entire life.

    In industry, I could still learn lots of new things, the pay would be better, and I would have a real career MUCH more quickly. I could also attend graduate school part-time.

    So, for those of you that have a PhD in the sciences, do you ever wish you went straight into industry?

    So, when I graduate, do I shoot for academia and get a PhD or go into industry, get a career started, and attend grad school (business and engineering, perhaps) part time?

    Should I perhaps apply to law school? I've sorta always wanted to be a lawyer, and my technical background would allow me to get into intellectual property, perhaps.

    I have also taken ochem 1 and 2 and whatnot. I could apply to med schools if I had a biology course. This is also an option...
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 16, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2006 #2

    Dr Transport

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    Let me take a crack at answering some of your questins and give you some insights.

    Not a bad option.

    Try 2-3 post-docs before getting your first faculty position if you ever get one. At any rate you won't have your first long term job until you are in your mid to late '30's, tenure 5-7 years later. You might look forward to getting up to go to work everyday for the rest of your life because you wil have to, faculty positions pay far less than industry jobs, believe me, I thought about taking a faculty job after working in industry for a while. I was offered a job and would have had to take a 50% pay cut and work towards tenure (neither of which I was willing to do because I knew that there wasn't a faculty member in the department who had ever worked in industry and wouldn't have a clue about the real world outside of academia and if I torqued off one of them they would deny me tenure and I'd be back at square one). At the rate of projected pay increases, I would have to work 10 years to get back to the salary I was at when I left. My savings for retirement would be about 25% of what I'd have in my accounts having stayed. (My company partially matches our contributions into our 401K, so right from the start I am saving quite a bit to retire on.) Living comforably is one thing, like a pauper is another.

    Exactly, moreover your employer may foot part or all of your bill to go to school part-time.

    I did and really have never looked back. My life is better for my family than I ever expected.

    Ultimately it is your decision, I can only give you my opinion and tell you what I have experienced.
  4. Dec 16, 2006 #3
    Thanks for the advice Dr. Transport. Your comments really put things into perspective for me. I will continue on with my dual degree in EE and physics, and get undergrad research experience with getting a PhD in mind, but when I finish ugrad I still have the option of bailing on the PhD thing and going into industry, and then going to grad school part-time...this way, I could even get a PhD part-time, right? Is this common?

    The ugrad research experience would look good to industry too, right? Do REUs look just as good to industry as co-op experience? I do have 1 semester of co-op experience, and I will have 1 semester of REU experience...maybe 2 semesters.

    I don't think I want to be 35 when I get my first tenure track faculty position...this is quite scary to me.
  5. Dec 16, 2006 #4

    D H

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    I bailed on the "PhD thing" twenty some years ago. I had been accepted in a PhD physics program. My life took a turn two days before graduation; I went into industry instead. I still have "just a bachelors degree". I have taken a number of graduate-level courses, but doing the whole degree program thing involves far too much BS for me to handle. (It was a pile of BS that made me change my career path two days before I received my BS.)

    I am not alone in this regard. I know many other people who stopped their formal education at various levels with every intent to continue it. Somehow, life's events tend to overtake those ambitions.

    I work in a PhD-heavy environment. I have developed and led several research projects. The main difference between PhDs and lesser degrees is that those with a PhD are assumed to be qualified to lead a research effort; they have to prove they aren't qualified (e.g., by screwing up bigtime). Those without the PhD are assumed to be yunqualified to lead research; they have to prove they are qualified (e.g., by getting a research grant).

    Do I regret my life's turns? Not really.
  6. Dec 16, 2006 #5

    Dr Transport

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    I have two people I am working with getting their PhD's part-time, it is not uncommon.

    As for experience, REU is research in an acedemic environment, Co-Op is with a company. My personal feeling is that I'd take the co-op before the REU student given everything equal, they have seen the world outside of academia and how it works. If I was a faculty member somewhere I'd most likely say the opposite because their job is to get you to spend time getting a degree, in many cases they don't care what happens with the rest of your life.
  7. Dec 16, 2006 #6


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    I, on the other hand, did the opposite of Dr Transport. When I was about to be done with my Ph.D, I had a job offer to go work for Applied Materials. I was about 2 weeks away from accepting their offer when I got a postdoc position. So it was deciding between a high-paying job in industry, or a low-paying, temporary position doing basic research. I chose the latter. Go figure!

    Why did I do that? I really had my sights on the work that was being offered in the postdoc position. I could almost set my own research work in an area that I had an extreme interest in, at a prestigious nat'l lab, a chance that doesn't come very often. The Applied Materials work, while I'm qualified for it, felt rather "mundane" because I will be doing work in the fabrication part of thin-film materials. I also felt that, with my background, I could probably try again this route if I change my mind later on.

    As with others, did I regret my decision? Not one bit. I'm extremely happy with where I am now, and I work with a terrific group of people. I look forward to coming into work every morning, and I know not many people are lucky enough to say that.

    Last edited: Dec 16, 2006
  8. Dec 16, 2006 #7


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    You met a girl, right?
  9. Dec 16, 2006 #8

    Dr Transport

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    Between my and Zapper's viewpoints you have both sides of the coin to look at......
  10. Dec 16, 2006 #9

    D H

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    I said it was a pile of BS. How could meeting a girl ever qualify as a pile of BS?

    The lurid details:

    I was the best man at a wedding two days before my graduation and a hundred miles away from school. Two hours before the wedding I got a phone call. It was my advisor. He said "D H, your not graduating! I finally got you!" Two days before graduation, not a thing I could do about it.

    What did he find? I had to take eight liberal arts classes to graduate. He found some requirement at the time of my matriculation that implied those courses had to be distributed in a certain way: four in the freshman and sophmore years, four more in the junior and senior years. My distribution: five and three. It was bullsh*t and he knew it. I learned three major lessons that day:
    • Lesson number 1: Switch advisors if your advisor doesn't like you. He will make your life difficult. In hindsight, I should have switched advisors two years before that when we first came at loggerheads.
    • Lesson number 2: Don't have the chairman of the department as your advisor, as that makes appeals a lot more difficult.
    • Lesson number 3: I really didn't want to face eight more years of this BS.

    I did graduate, but not with everyone else and not in the presence of my folks. He was out to get me and threw a pile of BS at me.

    A friend of mine at the wedding said he could help me get a job. I took his offer. The next fall, I took an upper level English-majors only course on Shakespeare at a different university. I aced it. My advisor/department chair wouldn't accept this as qualification for graduation. By this time, I knew how to go over his head. I had the sheepskin a few weeks later.
  11. Dec 16, 2006 #10


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    Thanks for explaining, DH. Some people can't handle power.
  12. Dec 16, 2006 #11
    you're kidding me, right? If someone told me that, I would have immediately went to the dean and if that failed, I would call a lawyer.
  13. Dec 16, 2006 #12
    I will sleep on it. You have all given excellent advice.
  14. Dec 16, 2006 #13


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    I think I understand some of what DH felt. It's like the institution is supposed to be good. You aren't supposed to have to go to the dean or call lawyers. It shouldn't work that way. If that's what it takes, perhaps it's not up to much after all.

    Why get a qualification that you know hinges on such stupid factors as how your subjects are distributed, right? I think the usual response is: don't hate the player, hate the game. Qualifications are mere pieces of paper but you need them.

    (please excuse my pessimism, I would love to be in a position to choose to work towards a PhD right now)
  15. Dec 16, 2006 #14

    D H

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    True story. We weren't quite as litigious a society twenty-eight years ago and I was naive. Eight months later, after I had aced an English-majors only Shakespeare course, I once again took my case to my advisor. "University of Maryland? That's not a good school. Your not graduating. You will NEVER graduate!" At this point, I did call the dean and said the next phone call will be from a lawyer.

    Needless to say, I got the stupid sheepskin. Equally needless to say, my Ivy League alma mater did not received a single donation from me when they come begging hat in hand until the department changed hands.
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