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Did I waste my time getting a 2nd degree?

  1. Dec 29, 2014 #1
    I graduated with degrees in both mechanical engineering and physics the past spring. I'm sort of feeling however that I wasted my time doing this. And by that I mean that a BS in physics does nothing in terms of finding jobs (unlike a BS in engineering). And also not going for a PhD in physics after getting the BS basically means that my physics career is over. I also feel like if I had only done one degree or the other then I would have done much better in that degree in terms of grades and experience. Any thoughts on this?

    But then again it is also all in the past now so I guess that's good? I guess there is also the idea of where to go from here. I suppose my main area of interest is to pursue a career in nuclear engineering. I just finished applying to a lot of PhD programs in NE and am waiting to hear results. But how else could I leverage my double degree to my advantage? I feel like there was a lot of overlap in terms of computational skills learned so I'm not too sure I can do much there.

    Also, what about non-STEM jobs? I've heard a lot of STEM majors can take jobs in consulting without leveraging their technical skills and just leveraging the fact they have a degree and the employer looks at that as them being intelligent/competent. Could I leverage my double degree to show that I would be a great employee even if I never actually use anything I learned in school?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    This is a key point. You cannot change the past so don't spend much time worrying about it at this time. In business, this is known as a sunk cost, and you never make business decisions based on sunk costs, only marginal costs (the difference in costs between the available options).
  4. Dec 29, 2014 #3
    Ok so where to go from here? I have two degrees which is good because I know much more engineering than other physics students and I know much more physics than engineering students. On the flip side, I perhaps do not have as much in-depth experience in either as I possibly could. I would really like to do a PhD permitting I can get into a program with a funding offer. However, I'm not sure I have the in-depth skill set necessary to thrive.
  5. Dec 29, 2014 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    From your perspective what would be the benefit of the PhD? "I want to get a PhD because if I don't I won't be able to ..."
  6. Dec 29, 2014 #5
    Well I would like to get a real nice research and design job realistically. Really trying to avoid the whole management track. I would like to enter academia or perhaps work at a DOE lab but those are less realistic options. And perhaps along the way of getting a PhD other opportunities would arise that I had not previously thought about.
  7. Dec 29, 2014 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    You may want to consider accelerator physics or some other type of program involving the development of experimental hardware. Your dual degrees would be advantageous there. Otherwise it sounds like the engineering degree may be your "core competency" with the physics as a "bonus".
  8. Dec 29, 2014 #7
    I've heard good things about accelerator physics in terms of number of available jobs. Do you think I could get a job in that or maybe something like designing medical devices with just an undergrad education?
  9. Dec 29, 2014 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes. There are such jobs available. You will not be in charge or making the major decisions as an undergrad, but it seems from your previous comments that may not be something you want to do anyway.
  10. Dec 29, 2014 #9


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    Seriously, how many times have you heard of an unemployed physicist? There are a few, there must be. But not many. And mech engineers without jobs are fairly rare also.

    Get your job app out to industries and labs you might like to work for. Keep looking at new marketable skills. Brush up on any skill you can pick up and add that to your CV. Example: If you don't already know, learn how to use VB for Excel. It will be useful in many jobs anyway. And get that on your CV.

    Don't be discouraged if the first several ignore you as though you never sent in the letter.

    You want to send a resume, two pages at most. Most recent activity at the top. Also, send a brief cover letter with it, and indicate in that what kind of job you think you would be most suited for and when you would be available. Punch up any interesting skills or experience. Taylor it to the specific industry or company. Google up those companies and see what kind of work they do. Such homework is important for the interview. Know the company you are applying to so you can look good when they ask "why do you want to work for <this company>?"

    When you get an interview the key is to show you are going to be an asset to the company.

    If company "x" does not hire you, Google up all companies that do similar work and apply to them.

    Even in the current tough economy you should be able to get a job fairly quickly. And then you should be able to advance in any reasonable company.
  11. Dec 29, 2014 #10
    You're probably a more desirable engineer in the eyes of an employer. Nonetheless, you still have your knowledge (a better understanding of how the universe) to counter the notion of having wasted your time.
  12. Dec 29, 2014 #11


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    In the spirit of constructive criticism, passing off a double major as having completed two independent degrees in your job search is likely not doing you any favours. Nor is the attitude that completing a degree in physics "does nothing in terms of finding jobs."

    Studying physics at the undergraduate level educates you in physics and prepares you for further advanced studies in physics. It doesn't give you any professional qualifications because it's not a professional degree. Very few people look to hire physics majors specifically, because the there are no legal requirements for physicists to perform certain actions, nor does a physics degree come with a skill set that has a specific industrial application. Mechanical engineering on the other hand is a professional degree. Completing such a program qualifies you to enter the profession and is a step in the process to getting you to the point where your signature can allow a corporation to safely move through a production process.

    What I have seen with physics majors though is that they tend to excel in other professions once they have their foot in the door. I don't know if that is because the physics degree gives them special skills that transfer well such as general problem solving, or if you just have a group of talented problem-solvers who chose to study physics in the first place. I suspect a lot can depend on the specifics of the individuals and the programs they've gone through. Getting your foot in the door is only one aspect of a career.
  13. Dec 30, 2014 #12
    Well I think the takeaway from the feedback you guys are giving me is that an effective strategy would be to have my engineering degree as my primary asset with my physics degree supplementing it. This is actually the strategy I used when I applied for graduate school and I guess maybe I could apply it to the job hunt as well.
  14. Dec 31, 2014 #13


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    I recommend rewriting/tuning your CV to suit the job you are applying for rather than sending out the same CV each time.

    Quite a few years back I did a lot of interviewing for graduate electronics engineers. I shouldn't generalise but I got the impression many of those that had done a second degree didn't really want to be in engineering. It was frequently apparent at interview that most really wanted a research job and were only applying for the jobs we were offering because they had failed to get a place on a PhD course. Pure research jobs were/are like gold dust. If that describes you then try not to let it show at interview!
  15. Dec 31, 2014 #14
    Well I got both my degrees concurrently. But I think the general strategy (both proposed in this thread and also the strategy I used for applying to grad schools) was to present myself as an engineer primarily with the additional knowledge and skills given by a physics degree. I think that makes the most sense. If you have any feedback to that let me know but it seems to be the best strategy available.
  16. Dec 31, 2014 #15
    I would consider leaving the physics degree off completely. That is how I got my first job out of college.
  17. Dec 31, 2014 #16
    Can you elaborate more on your situation?
  18. Dec 31, 2014 #17
    Briefly... I got a degree in physics, couldn't get a job. I got a masters in physics, still couldn't get a job. I left physics off my resume/application and finally got a minimum wage job. I went back to school for engineering and then get a job as an engineer.

    Its just something I would consider, leaving physics off. It might help a little, it might hurt a little. Since you have a real engineering degree on your resume I don't think having physics on there would help you much. Maybe try it both ways and cover your bases.
  19. Jan 1, 2015 #18
    I thought it would be silly to leave off a degree. But I can kind of see that for jobs you are obviously overqualified for, the company must know that they can't offer you your dream job, meaning you will be gone as soon as said dream job opportunity comes along.

    So the strategy would be to get a job just to get job experience, you leave off the physics degree.

    Same would be true for PhDs. Maybe it is best to leave it off for lower tier jobs. I can see that the only thing an employer gets from additional MSc or PhD is that you will be gone once a pure research job opportunity comes up.

    Once you have job experience and can apply for more desirable jobs, surely the time spend on an additional degree would not be wasted.
    But, if you do an engineering job for 10 years, meaning you do nothing with your physics degree, maybe it starts to lose value over time?
  20. Jan 1, 2015 #19


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    I started in physics (nuclear and astro) and migrated into nuclear engineering. A physics background was very useful in NE. In fact, I encourage engineering students to get as much physics as possible, since engineering is more or less applied physics. If I had known then what I know now, I would have doubled majored in physics and nuclear engineering. I really didn't have any guidance until later years as an undergrad, so I more or less stumbled through the first few years.

    With regard to mechanical engineering and physics, in what areas did one specialize? Both areas have many specialty sub-disciplines.

    Was one a student member of ASME? That is a great way to learn about careers in mechanical engineering. www.asme.org

    One could also look at MS or PhD in Engineering Physics.

    Why entertain non-STEM jobs? One seems unsure about a career in STEM for which one is trained? In what career is one interested.

    That is a reasonable strategy.

    Those options are not necessarily less realistic. DOE labs generally prefer to hire folks with MS or PhD. They are mainly interested in exceptional people who have demonstrated the ability to do research. Capability, competency and proficiency are important.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
  21. Jan 1, 2015 #20
    On the mechanical engineering side of things I took advanced coursework in nuclear reactor engineering and also in heat transfer. I also did research on a thermal fluids topic. For physics I basically just took the classes to be honest. I guess it is reasonable then to properly conclude that ME is my greater strength than physics.

    At one point I was interest in fusion energy and other plasma physics topics but no longer. Just playing to my strengths and where I've actually had experience in developing my interests. I'm mostly looking to do something with fission reactor engineering in a thermal fluids topic like perhaps something involving CFD, heat transfer, or a multiphysics simulation of sorts.
  22. Jan 1, 2015 #21


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    It would probably be worthwhile to go to graduate school and do fluid mechanics and CFD. Most users of CFD are the reactor/fuel suppliers (assumes design and manufacturing) and national labs and safety authorities. One could possibly work with a large utility doing oversight of supplier analyses.

    Fluid structure interaction is another area of interest, as is acoustic emission analysis.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
  23. Jan 2, 2015 #22
    I did the exact opposite (I did degrees in electrical engineering and physics), left the physics degree and the research I performed while doing it on the resume and it helped me get my current job (far above minimum wage). It's really not as useless as you like making it out to be.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
  24. Jan 2, 2015 #23


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    I hope you are looking for opinions, because the matter is truly subjective. In my opinion, having 2 degrees close to each other [such as engineering and physics] is a very good choice. The physics degree may never be of use to you, but it will show how you can comprehend with two tasks at the same time (multi-tasking), especially if you are able to present it in a nice/clever way (marketing terms). Furthermore, in a personal level, you shouldn't have any remorse...since you did that, it means that it was what you wanted to do... as such, it can never be "wrong" or "a waste".
    Would you have been better if you had chosen one and concentrated more on it ? Generally speaking, the answer would have been a "yes"...but, oh well, it doesn't really matter. At least for me, a BS degree is not something that shows what you are capable of doing. It's just a nice "low-level" measure. For example if someone asked me, in which degree he/she should put the most effort, I'd gladly say the Masters degree, because it's the MSc that is dedicated to specialization and your further carreer. The BS can only play the role of a good support to your Masters, but it's not "enough" neither "necessary". I think some institutes have thought about it before me, and that's why they prefer giving the option of getting immediately a MSc degree if you want to...

    True, past cannot be changed [yet o0) for SciFi] . If you are not an exceptional student, the only way to be chosen by an institute is to know how to present yourself in the best way possible. I am sorry I am putting so much marketing in it, but that's how things work. You are 1 out of many applicants, and you have to persuade people (who don't know you ) about your skills etc. To me this is marketing. The only things that you cannot have the upper hand in presentation, are your grades and the recommendation letters.
    As for how to use your degrees in your advantage, I think this will show up to you, by itself through your life. For example Physics+Engineering sounds to be really useful in Nuclear Engineering.

    Yes you can. A friend of mine was able to earn a job in Austria without having any special skills. She had only taken some extra courses in Coursera or Edx (random courses/nothing to do with her job) and because of that, she was able to show that she is not a lazy person (just sitting waiting for a job) but a decisive and competitive person...
  25. Jan 3, 2015 #24
    Those two fields are VERY closely related, so I can see nothing but good come out of that. I would recommend you just start sending out apps to all of the relevant employers, and your two degrees should give you a significant edge in the job market. It shows versatility and the ability to make connections between multiple areas, which is especially important to Nuclear Engineering.

    Past that, I would also recommend maybe further specializing with future, higher level degrees if you don't have your dream job and are financially stable enough to consider leaving and looking for a better one.
  26. Jan 11, 2015 #25
    Yeah it seems it might be best to just "follow the money" and enter into CFD work because there is so much of it to do.

    Marketing myself does seem to the be the key here. I think the engineer who also has a physics degree is the best option. In terms of my resume I put both of my degrees on there because I completed both within the same 4 year period which in of itself looks impressive although it was very difficult (yet also rewarding).

    For reference I was just accepting into the PhD program at UT-Knoxville (with no word on funding yet) which is an early acceptance which should bode well for the other 7 applications I also submitted. I'm going to send out some more emails to various professors at the schools I applied to and see what responses I get.

    Also, how does everyone feel about multi-physics projects like combining heat transfer and neutron transport equations? Is there substantial funding/jobs for this sort of work?
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2015
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