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Math Computational Science MS to Engineering OR Applied Math?

  1. Jul 12, 2012 #1
    Hello all, I've gotten myself in quite a mess and how I might hope to resolve it is...questionable. I'm wondering about your input.

    Last Fall, I applied to PhD programs in (Applied) Math under the impression that I wanted to strive to become a professor in mathematics.

    Since accepting one offer, I have had an avalanche of realities (sick/aging family, lost girlfriend largely because I prioritized school, my $60,000 in debt and my age), provoked a realization:

    I am absolutely insane to try to do this, given my circumstances.

    I have the choice between an MS that would allow for some engineering courses, or a PhD program; both funded. (Or, not going anywhere this Fall, which I'm sure that the writers of my LORs--all of whom I value as great advisers and, in fact, friends--would love to hear)

    Option 1: Computational Science MS with courses in electrical engineering, subsequent application to electrical engineering programs

    Option 2: Math PhD in creating computational methods...maybe I can pick up statistics

    Option 3: Apply for next year, in the meanwhile, increase my programming skills and try to file a patent (I have a few ideas floating around, but, alas (?), I have let school distract me).

    Option 4: Flee society and build a glorious woodland civilization.

    To everyone: how do I make the most of my background while making a decent salary (something where I could earn, say, 70,000 (present value) by the time I'm 30, or do I really have my head in the clouds...)

    To the Electrical Engineers: have I ruined my chances of having a good job by not having an industrial internship (besides one back in...2008, and in a different field, to boot)?

    To the Quants (that's including you, twofish-quant!): For the greatest probability of getting a non-housekeeping quant job, I probably need a PhD right? I know that no man can predict the future, but is it possible that, with the growing discontent with college educations, EVEN fewer academic positions will result in Wall Street being SWARMED by math/phys/chem/CS PhDs, hence making this objective career ALSO highly risky?
    In any case, I should investigate Mark Joshe's book, yes?

    To the Actuaries: How many passed exams are sufficient to gain an internship, given that I have no background in financial math?

    To the Software Engineers: Are there examples of math PhDs who get a $60k-70k/year or more upon entering the field?

    To the Software Engineers OR 'Big Data'/Machine Learning people: Is the pay in this field lucrative, given the rise of social media?

    To everyone: I target you esteemed professionals of the fields above because I am horribly confused as to what I actually like. I'm starting to think I like everything, and that's why salary and job prospects are my primary concern.

    I should be leaping for joy at the fact I've had such good fortune. And leap I did, but the realities of life, salary, and future wife/family--especially in what seems to be a continually dying economy--have made me consider more practical options.

    Although I've made a very foolish mistake that I very much regret, I believe I have great potential, and hope that my aims are not totally unreasonable for an intelligent person who feels (prior to being a program, very thankfully) that he has deceived himself by an imaginary salary-academic performance correlation.

    PS: Is there a way to neurologically program myself (without going insane) to like something financially lucrative and life-wise balanced?

    PPS (or, for variety, NB): I've been told to find my 'passion'. Does this exist? I know well the quote from Confucius, but if that were the case I'd probably be a writer. The lack of job security here, too, makes this more of a consideration for the side.

    Thank you all for taking the time to consider my quandary.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 16, 2012 #2


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    Hey LMTORAD and welcome to the forums.

    Firstly about patents: I wouldn't bother with this. Patents are a pain in the neck both with regards to time and other resources like money. Big companies have dedicated legal teams whose purpose is to defend their IP portfolio as this where a lot of the actual wealth is tied up in: if it's not in royalty and licensing agreements, it's to make sure that they have a competitive advantage. It has turned into a point where the IP is used offensively rather than as a defensive mechanism that allowed the small guy to remain competitive against the big guy.

    If you don't believe me, why don't you find out what the average patent infringement costs are (you should find it goes into seven figures). My advice given your experience in the matter, your time and resources, don't both with patents.

    With regards to the other options, I'd recommend anything with a substantial project component with applied elements including programming and analysis with packages, statistics, and some kind of communication component whether its a presentation, report, or similar.

    The key thing is showing people who are hiring that you can bring some sort of value. If they see that you have worked on a project from start to completion that helps. If they see that you can learn what needs to be done through the lifetime of the project, that helps. If they see that you can communicate with non-technical people and more importantly work with them, that helps. If they see that you can do technical work in addition to these, then that opens you up for those jobs.

    Think about if you were hiring someone and think about what would be on their mind if you had to make a choice: you want someone who doesn't quit when things get tough so you look for people who have completed projects. You want someone who can work in a team with any kind of person necessary (not just the same personality): so you look at communication skills and the environments being worked in (and to some extent all the psychological BS evaluations that go on). You want someone that also has technical skills, so you look at the formal qualifications and the nature of the work (like the thesis and nature of the problem).

    Basically think about what a person at the other end looks at when they are faced with a risky decision of hiring someone because it's a very big thing to hire someone due to the nature of training and 'work' they have to do to get the junior employees up to speed. If things don't pan out, they have to do this all again and they would want to avoid such a circumstance from occuring.

    Also another recommendation: before you apply for jobs, 1) make use of networking and 2) make sure you check out the company or business you are applying for. Find out what the culture is like, what they actually do, and what they are 'all about'.

    Remember that if you network, the people that put in a good word for you have their own reputation on the line, so be aware of the sacrifice they are putting up when they give someone else a nod for recommending you.

    I would recommend you spend some time doing your Masters (if you choose to do so) to get some contacts and to find out what's out there. I would also advise to be honest, respectful and to be yourself. If you don't do these things, they'll come back to bite you: you might think smiling and being nice all the time is good but it's just better to be yourself with a good amount of integrity: people respect people that are themselves and not people that just grovel or act a certain way to get favors.

    Find out where these kinds of people congregate. If their are mailing lists for these kinds of jobs, societies, gatherings, conferences, etc, then find out where they are and try and meet a few people.

    It will probably be a really foreign thing at first, but you'll get used to it, and it's good training for work because you'll be dealing with people you aren't familiar with probably on a regular basis, especially if you are doing analytic work for decision makers, or if you are in a large company with a lot of different people that have the need to work with many others.
  4. Jul 17, 2012 #3
    Hi Chiro!

    Thanks for all of your very thorough and thoughtful input! This should be generally useful, regardless of what I decide to do. It actually makes me think that the PhD program might be more useful than I might otherwise think.

    Although, with regards to patent infringement, are you speaking to the actual USE of a patent or the ISSUE of a patent? (I'm thinking you mean the use, I was solely thinking of this as a means to getting a job or into graduate school)

    Thanks again!
  5. Jul 17, 2012 #4


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    Well the major point of a patent is to grant you the monopoly to use the intellectual property to your advantage. If you are licensing the patent, it gives you the power to choose how you manage these rights, how you transfer these rights to 3rd parties, and how you maintain this monopoly for your own benefit.

    The thing is though that if you find that someone is infringing and you decide to take it to court, the costs of doing so are ridiculously expensive (again in the millions on average and sometimes a lot higher) and it's a lot easier for a big company to just drag the case on until you, the sole inventor have no funds left to go on even if you did initially take the thing to court.

    The other thing is that you have to worry whether you have accidently infringed on someone elses patent whether unintentionally or otherwise. Remembering that a lot of these big players have dedicated legal teams that scour through these kinds of things, you are going to be hit hard if you introduce something that makes a lot of revenue with an infringing element.

    If you want to see where this has happened intentionally see the Sun Vs Microsoft case for the Microsoft implementation of Java in their Visual J++ tool (you should be able to find the case through a google search, even if summarized by someone). The C# platform was necessary as a result of this.

    Also getting a patent to get a job may not be the best way to accomplish this, unless you want to get into a specific kind of research and development role (which is probably what you had in mind). Getting into graduate school does not require a patent by any means.

    Again you need to remember how long and how painful it is to get a patent. Unless your IBM who gets patents in the same way that we breathe, its going to be a nightmare most likely. Most people get it over many years and you will need to wait a while anyway even if the process is streamlined: but it won't be because you have no experience in getting one.

    If you want to get into this whole inventing thing you need to get in touch with seasoned and professional inventors (they exist). These people will know about the business side and also about issues of whether its wise to join a company after you have your own portfolio.

    Be aware that a lot of people get patents only after significant work experience somewhere else. I remember reading a patent advice book for engineers outlining one mans experience where his first patents where a result of working for an engineering company trying to convince them of the value and use of a particular thing (I think it was a process but I'm not sure). The company didn't have any interest and later he developed that process and became a professional inventor. He had to get the company to sign off on letting him develop it because when you work for someone, often you sign away the rights to your work nomatter where its developed and what resources are used if the work relates to the nature of the work of the business who employs you.

    All these little things are important to know so you don't get majorly screwed down the line if you choose this road.

    In short, leave the whole patent thing for the moment and realize you don't need them to get a job or get into a graduate program: wait till you understand the field, the industry and the challenges and problems faced before you even think about this kind of thing, and get in touch with professional inventors who know about these kinds of things: they have conferences and so on just like any other group.
  6. Jul 22, 2012 #5
    Thanks again Chiro! To clarify: I was considering the patent option as a demonstration of a genuine interest in the appropriate field of engineering. This is interesting to know, that I should choose a career field that's disjoint from any side-projects (unless they are service-oriented?) that I would consider pursuing.
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