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Economics of an Engineering PhD

  1. Feb 10, 2015 #1
    Ill keep this short and sweet:
    Everyone knows you don't go into a PhD program to get rich, that is silly. A PhD requires a sacrifice in earning power, my question is whether or not this is worth it in today's economy, especially in the USA (consider the student loan crisis).

    It seems to me that education is beginning to take a widely different direction (see for example MOOCS or coursera) from even 5 years ago. I can see why, most "average" people cannot afford to get an education. After a little digging I have found some graduate classes on numerical methods that are of good calibre. Learning on your own has benefits, but the classroom is a great opportunity to network. A network has potential to be invaluable itself.

    Basically, is it a good move career wise to pursue an advanced degree in the traditional sense. (Is that class you are taking with $2000 to $4000?)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 10, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think that it depends on the branch of engineering you are pursuing and your goals. A civil engineer will not make up the opportunity cost over their career. Other engineers might or might not.

    However, there is more than just monetary factors to consider also. I got my PhD not primarily for the pay, but because in my field it is basically required if you want to be in charge.
  4. Feb 11, 2015 #3
    Id be going for a PhD because I love being immersed in the intellectual environment. A batchelors degree in engineering will get you to do mostly mundane tasks. Even a masters degree wont always help. Ive got a buddy who works for a company out in Iowa and all he does is "process improvement" stuff with a masters in mechanical engineering with a 3.9 GPA... Go make sense of that.
  5. Feb 11, 2015 #4
    It is just that I am really torn knowing the economic state of the USA. In many ways I feel cheated by the student loan crisis. I make over 60 grand a year, but with the extra "benefit" of student loans I am living like I never went to college.
  6. Feb 11, 2015 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    Then the economic considerations are a little less pressing. You would essentially be paying a little or maybe breaking even in order to have a lifestyle that you enjoy.
  7. Feb 12, 2015 #6
    I think it rather peculiar that you chose Engineering for an "intellectual environment." Engineering is a very practical and pragmatic subject. While it can be intellectual, the end result is supposed to be practical.

    Another note: GPA means NOTHING once you leave college. I know plenty of people who got great GPA scores who I wouldn't trust to engineer a toothpick. GPA does not correlate with intelligence or common sense. Don't misunderstand me, it is good to have people who question common sense. However, I don't want someone with no common sense designing something that people's lives depend upon.

    And those "process improvements"? That's what most engineers do. It's what makes things faster, better, more efficient, and cheaper. It's the incremental effort of such things that makes stuff that used to be impractical an everyday fixture. Incremental improvements over decades developed today's computers from unreliable monstrosities that filled rooms, to embedded devices that make your smart phone the amazing device that it is. You're welcome to say it's not for you, but that's how most engineering works.

    You can be truly revolutionary in your engineering efforts. However, you'd better be one of those people with both practical and heavy theoretical capability and a presence that virtually radiates a faint blue glow of intelligence before you can do those revolutionary projects. Those people are VERY rare. You don't get that from school. You bring it with you to school and you use your education to become that person.

    I hope you are indeed one of those intelligent people, but do note that there are two groups of people who think they're intelligent: Those who actually are, and those who are so deluded that they think they are. The latter are a walking disaster everywhere they go. In my career I've met many who thought they were intelligent, but very few who really were.

    The study of Engineering usually offers good returns to anyone with the motivation to get a Master's degree. However, the Ph.D is another matter entirely. The Return on Investment isn't as obvious unless you have a fairly clear idea of what you want to pursue, or you're just plain lucky. Do it, if you have a specific intellectual urge to pursue, but realize that while it is unlikely that you'll be homeless and starve, the likelihood of similar returns on the investment is not quite the same.
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