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Dropping out of grad school - worth getting MS?

  1. Oct 8, 2011 #1
    I started Physics grad school this Fall, but I have recently started considering dropping out, either to join an existing company or to start my own business. I am concerned about how this would look to future employers, both startups and non-startups. I know that getting an MS degree but no phD in Physics does not look great, as it shows that you quit the PhD program. But is getting an MS still better than nothing?

    Also, will the companies (both startup and non-startup) take my grad school grades seriously? I'm taking QFT right now, and I just don't have the motivation to study hard for the class, and I'm concerned about getting a really bad grade.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 8, 2011 #2


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    Hey creepypasta13.

    I can't talk about grad school per se, but since you mentioned starting a business, I can't help but respond.

    The first obvious question I guess is why do you want to start a business? What experience (I don't care if its personal or working with someone else) do you have? Who are the people involved?

    If you want to start a business in some kind of industry involved in using intellectual capital (like software development, some scientific area like biotechnology, and so on), chances are you don't have enough valid experience to go out on your own, but I'll let you answer the above questions to give an idea of what you are thinking.

    Also with ventures that are dependent on intellectual capital, it is really hard to get into this environment. Anything IP, whether its patents, trademarks, copyright, trade secrets, or anything else requires a lot of resources and a lot of money. These big companies have departments that specifically look after IP portfolios. These companies have the resources to pay very qualified legal teams to pick apart patents and find ways of either getting around your patent, or in the worse case, show how your patent has infringed in theirs.
  4. Oct 11, 2011 #3
    I'd like to start a business since I'd like to be my own boss and make the decisions for the business. It's not like I'm 100% certain that I want to do this. I'd really like to get some experience at an existing startup first. No, I don't have any prior experience in a startup environment, which is why I've been trying to apply for jobs at various startups.

    Does anyone know how bad it looks to employers if I FAIL some of my grad-level classes?
  5. Oct 11, 2011 #4
    I worried about this, too, when I left grad school.

    But I have never run into this opinion anywhere. I'm sure somewhere outside of academia it exists, but it appears to be pretty rare. I tell people I finished my Masters in less than two years and that getting a PhD would not have been a good use of my time and that's the end of it, usually with some positive feedback.

    However, failing those classes will come back to haunt you some day. Don't do it.

    Personally I'd suggest grabbing the Masters because it's so easy and opens a (very) few doors. If you're going to be starting a business it won't matter, but you may need to work for someone else at some point and it could help then.
  6. Oct 11, 2011 #5
    Can you withdraw from the class before it would be considered as a FAIL? I'd say it depends on the employer on how bad it would look.
  7. Oct 12, 2011 #6
    keep in mind if you graduate with a masters, you are now technically an alumni of that school. Depending on the school, that can really open some doors.
  8. Oct 13, 2011 #7
    Quitting is not considered an invariably bad thing in the business world. Sometimes the best thing to do is to quit and work on something else.

    One thing to remember is that starting your own business is likely to be three times harder than graduate school. If you aren't doing it with your own money, you'll have to convince someone to give you money, and that means convincing them that they'll get it back.

    Absolutely. It prevents you from getting a gap in your resume, and also it qualifies you for teaching community college.

    As long as you aren't applying to D.E. Shaw, no one will care. You will only run into trouble if your grades are so bad that you get kicked out before you get your degree.
  9. Oct 14, 2011 #8
    I have no intention to teach at a CC, but how serious is the gap in my resume? Can listing my experience as a TA sort-of fill in that gap? Right now, I just have no motivation to try to obtain the MS (not to mention that I would have to take Jackson's E&M AND a lab course)

    Out of the 3 classes I'm currently taking, I'm confident that I'll at least pass 2 of them (the instructors are easy), but I'm not even sure if I can pass QFT
  10. Oct 14, 2011 #9
    I dont see much of a point in getting the masters, unless you have things you want to learn. In my experience a masters in physics is just about as unmarketable as a B.S. in physics.
  11. Oct 14, 2011 #10


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    Remember that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of their undergrad programs, and both started what become very successful multi-billion dollar companies. However, they are more the exception than the rule.

    Having an MS is not bad. Dropping out in good standing, and starting a business is not so bad. Dropping out, but not knowing what kind of business in which one wishes to engage is not such a good idea.

    The idea of an MS is to accomplish some directed research. A PhD is one's own original research. Both, in theory, should contribute to the field or state-of-the-art.

    If one were to leave a graduate program, then ideally, one would take a leave of absence, and start a business with a viable business plan and objective.

    If one is close to the MS, then finish it and go start a company. While completing the MS, develop a sound business plan, including market research, and develop contacts.
  12. Oct 15, 2011 #11


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    I think you should understand the history of people like Bill Gates before displaying them in this manner.

    Bill Gates started programming in high school, and was involved in his own small business programming solutions for other people (one that comes to mind was a traffic counting system). He was into this kind of thing long before he started the route of software creation, and he had a lot of working knowledge that he developed with his friend and co-founder Paul Allen.

    You have to take things like this into account, and it is good for the OP to know things like this. The same story can be said for Richard Branson. He was actually trying to sell Christmas trees before he sold records.

    Both of these show examples of continued and highly directed efforts that spanned many years before they started their main endeavors.

    If the OP hasn't really done something along these lines, I suggest that they do something to get more experience and more insight into the specifics of what they want to do.

    I'm not saying everyone has done this, but it makes a lot of sense to have some kind of decent experience with something before you can really think about and start a venture that is successful and makes sense.
  13. Oct 15, 2011 #12


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    Similar stories of starting early can be found for a number of successful business people. However, I was making a point about people who do drop out of a university program, and do become successful regardless.
  14. Oct 15, 2011 #13


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    Absolutely agree, I just made that comment to help the OP make a more informed decision about starting a business, if that is what he chooses to do.
  15. Oct 15, 2011 #14


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    I agree. One certainly should make rational and informed decision about starting a business. One should not drop out of school or start a business simply based on an emotional reaction to one's circumstances.
  16. Oct 15, 2011 #15
    That mostly stems from smarts and know-how. There are more cases of failed start-ups than there are of successful start-ups. He could be in the minority or he could just be another one of the failed start-ups, but even in the failed numbers there are those who were persistent enough to turn the many failures into a successful business. But seeing as he lost motivation for a physics PhD, I doubt he would continue on if he happens to fail once or a few times.

    I don't think it is worth getting an MS because you feel unmotivated to do the work required, it shows a lack of discipline. While Bill Gates is a good example of dropping out, he was into programming a long time before entering college and didn't necessarily need school to make him successful and he was certainly motivated to continue his own work to get to a position he wanted, whereas creepypasta wants to start-up his/her own business (I don't know how long you've been thinking about it), that may or may not do well. Chances of it being successful is slim when taking in the probabilities of it all, especially if it is on a whim and because you don't feel like finishing a PhD program.
  17. Oct 15, 2011 #16


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    I definitely think that, if you drop out of school, you will be well advised to take the MS first. There are many situations where an MS has monetary value to you in terms of preferential hiring and pay scales, whereas the number of situations where it is a negative is essentially zero. I dropped out of grad school and was very glad I had taken a master's first. I almost immediately got several jobs none of which i would have got without it.
  18. Oct 15, 2011 #17


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    It seems to me that you want to drop out because things are though, not because you have some clear idea that you would rather be doing something else. The thing is, starting a business is also hard, very hard. Do you have the determination to stick with it? If the answer is no, don't bother. You will fail
  19. Oct 19, 2011 #18
    I suspect the statistic is still valid that 1/2 of all new businesses fail in the first 5 years. You're worried about a grade in a class, but think about a failure that costs you your life savings, credit, etc. As a physicist, you probably have zero training in business, management, HR, finance, etc., so you can pretty much plan in being in the downside of the 1/2. Stick to what you know.

    Time to be blunt. Grow up. Drop the class you are failing (I'd still audit it), and pick it up next year, unless, you are failing because you are clueless. If that's the case, find another profession you can do well. Assuming you didn't barely get by getting your undergraduate degree, you're probably not clueless.

    So look at motivation. Do you lack it because you are concerned about getting a job? Perhaps you don't want to be a lab rat the rest of your life. The extra 1-2 yrs to get your MS is worth it. The fact is, at the BS level, you are one of many. As the degree goes up to MS or PhD, there are fewer and fewer, which ultimately means a higher probability of get the select positions when they open up in a company. The degree makes a major difference.

    Closing on a nicer note. Check out physics jobs in the major Society journals. Not just lab rat jobs. Physicists work in the oil industry doing well logging, medical physics doing clinical imaging and cancer care, nuclear physics in industry or power plants, national labs (Hanford, ANL, ORNL, LANL, etc.), etc. There truly is a lot out there. Open your eyes, look, find something that trips your trigger, and go for it.
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