Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Math Engineering or Applied Math for Grad School

  1. Oct 21, 2011 #1
    I'm a mechanical engineering and math double major in my last year of undergrad and planning on going to grad school next year.

    My question: Given that I want to work in industry/the private sector after grad school, how do masters degrees in applied mathematics stack up to masters degrees in engineering (specifically mechanical or electrical) from an employer's perspective?

    I'm very mathematically inclined and generally pretty academic in temperment, which is why I want to continue my education. However, I realize that my chances of becoming a professor are naught, and furthermore I don't even know if I would want to be a career academic, so I want to take a course that will give me lots of options. Currently I'm under the impression that masters degrees in engineering enable one many more opportunities in industry than mathematics degrees, but I'm not one hundred percent certain.

    For what it's worth, I want to go into dynamical systems and control theory, which seems to be studied in both engineering and math departments.

    Thanks for any responses!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 22, 2011 #2
    I would agree with that. Not that an applied math degree would be very valuable; its just that more companies are familiar and comfortable with engineering degrees.

    So consider also getting your masters in mechanical engineering first. Try to get as much hands on controls as you can. Later, when you are working, and if you have the time, energy, and money, you could do your masters in applied math with night school or on-line.
  4. Oct 22, 2011 #3
    I see. Thanks for responding.

    What about at the PhD level? Are doctorates in applied math and engineering comparable from the industry's perspective?

    If I'm better off getting a masters in engineering, would it be possible to pursue a PhD in applied math right after (say, if I were able to pass their quals, etc.), or must my masters be in applied math if I want a doctorate in that field?

    I know this question must sound rather absurd, but I feel that if I were to go all the way to a PhD, I would want it to be in math/applied math, rather than engineering (I really like math). It seems to me like it should be possible since dynamics and controls are so multidisciplinary and my math background is pretty strong, but I'm new to the whole process.

    So my dream plan is: Masters in Mechanical Engineering (Dynamics and Controls focus) -> PhD in (Applied) Mathematics (same focus, probably more theoretical/general than engineering)

    Is this feasible, or am I just being petty with labels? :)

    Responses to the question in my OP and these are quite welcome.
  5. Oct 22, 2011 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Since computational physics or multi-physics simulation is a growth area, having an advanced degree in applied math would be beneficial, as would an engineering (applied physics) degree in the same area.

    That sounds reasonable.
  6. Oct 22, 2011 #5
    Most of the companies I have worked for as an engineer over the last 20 years do have phD engineers although often in limited numbers. I have not seen a phD in math, however, but that is just my experience.

    In today's job market, a phD may limit your options in industry. If your career goal is industry, I would consider a masters a "terminal" degree. However, if your goal is acedemia, national labs, or high level R&D work in the limited number of these positions, I would pursue the phD.

    These are complicated decisions for everyone. One thing I have seen people do is earn their masters in engineering, start working, and earn their pHD part time.
  7. Oct 22, 2011 #6
    No it doesn't.

    If you want to work in industry, get the masters in engineering and make sure your project has lots of hands-on experience with lab work besides just theory.

    If you want to be an academic, get a PhD in whatever you find most interesting.

    Once you start working in industry, you won't go back to do your PhD.

    A PhD in controls is not going to be particularly useful or marketable in industry so you'd be doing it for your own interest. (Sad fact about controls is that in a lot of industries it just ends up being PID control over and over again. Very few places do the fancy stuff like model-based control etc.)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook