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Good masters or fast masters?

  1. Jul 14, 2006 #1
    Hey everyone. I've been wondering something lately...I am an Electrical Engineering student, and a lot of people have told me that getting my masters in EE is extremely helpful. I am currently attending the U of Minnesota (yay!) and they offer a 5 year program to get my BS and my MS. I love my college, but I'd also been thinking, another option would be to get my BS in EE (and possibly double major in Physics) from the U of M and then go to a different grad school, specifically Stanford or MIT (I'm shooting high! I think I have good grades...). The Stanford or MIT program would take 2 years (I think...as far as I know. haha) bringing my total school years up to 6.

    So I guess my question is this: how much better would it be to get my masters from a top notch grad school such as Stanford in six years, or get my masters from the University of Minnesota (a good school, but by no means elite) in five years? Is the extra year worth a better school?

    Also, while I'm asking questions, would double majoring in EE and Physics help in my grad school/career hunt? And what kind of grades/experience would I need to get in to a Standford/Mit/Caltech type school?

    Thank you all! And hopefully my post wasn't complete nonsense, I'm getting a little sleepy...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2006 #2


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    This is a related question:

    Does it look bad to have your Master's degree from the same school as your Bachelors? Does it dpend on the major?
  4. Jul 15, 2006 #3
    Ah, I've never even thought of that. Anyone know what employers think of it?
  5. Jul 15, 2006 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    A few thoughts on all the questions:

    -- In our interviewing of candidates (for fairly elite R&D Lab EE postions), we will probably give a little extra credit going into the interview to people who have attended and done well at elite schools like Stanford up the road or MIT/Caltech/etc. But that extra credit only really helps you get the interview. What happens in the interview(s) is what will get you the job.

    -- A masters degree does help in getting into R&D type EE positions. But just the degree itself won't help if you don't have several other qualities. We look for people who have gained a good understanding of the topics that they have studied, and we especially like candidates who have some work experience in EE and have done some significant projects. Work experience and projects help the student to learn their material in a better and more practical way.

    -- I think the best things you can do to get as much out of school as possible are to work on some projects (what are your options for work-study programs, or senior projects, or TA'ing and working with faculty on their research projects?), and outside of school to build up some projects of your own. Think of some fun electronics project that you would like to build, maybe including programming of a microcontroller in C or assembly language, and build it. You will learn *so* much by actually putting your school learning to use in a real-world project. What I've found from this kind of hands-on reinforcement to learning, is that you learn to "ask the right questions" of yourself and your teachers, and that just helps you to learn the material even better.

    -- As for getting your MSEE from the same school as your BSEE, I don't think it matters. How well you've learned your material, and how well you've applied that learning to some real-world projects matter far more. Again, your resume will get you the interview, but what we talk about in the interview is what gets you the job.

    Congrats on doing well so far, Pete. Keep up the good work, fit in some practical projects, and you'll go far. -Mike-
  6. Jul 15, 2006 #5


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    Just a follow-up point. One of the things I like to do in interviews is have the candidate bring some documentation from one of their more significant projects that they've worked on. Like bring the schematic of a board-level project that they worked on or contributed to. This can be difficult if all of their projects are confidential to their previous employer, for example, but it's usually something that can be worked around. For someone coming out of school, the projects are usually school projects or senior projects or faculty reasearch that is in the public domain.

    I like to use this as part of the interview, because candidates are usually less nervous talking about something that they are very familiar with, rather than having to answer lots of technical questions that I make up. Plus, it lets me ask very probing questions that push the limits of the candidate's knowledge, because if they bring a schematic or board or whatever and they say they designed it, then they better know the answers to my technical questions about it.

    So I'd recommend that one of the things you consider in plotting out your school work, is to strive to have that complicated project schematic or whatever by the time that you are going out for job interviews. Take it with you even if the interviewers haven't asked for it ahead of time. If you have good work to show off in the interview, and you know your stuff about the project, that will make you a standout in several different ways.
  7. Jul 17, 2006 #6
    Thanks for the advice berkeman :) I think this is the second time you've answer a question of mine, and you're always extremely helpful, thank you!

    The school I'm at now offers an internship program for my junior and senior years, and from what I hear from you, you think that would be one of the better things to do? Like, would an employer such as yourself look more favorably upon a person with two years experience than on person with a double major in Physics and EE or EE with maybe Csci and Phys minors (just some options I'm looking at)? Thanks again!
  8. Jul 17, 2006 #7


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    The double-major question would depend more, I think, on what kinds of jobs you would like to pursue. Like, if you're really turned on by aerospace and space stuff, then an EE/Physics double major would seem to be a plus. If you're interested in product development, then the Physics minor would probably not add much to your marketability (or your abilities in product design). My BS degree was in both EE and CS, with a pretty even split between hardware and software. My MSEE focused more on hardware, and that's mainly what I do. But you'd be surprised how much software you write in support of your hardware design efforts, so it's very helpful to have a strong software background (data structures, compilers, operating systems, C/C++).

    As for the internship programs, they can be good if the work part is in your specialty and is challenging with good mentor engineers helping you in your work. Ideally, you will be starting to work in the specialty that you've chosen and that you really like, and applying your schoolwork and going beyond what you have learned in school. The potential problem with internships is that they slow down your pace at school, so unless the work is real valuable and challenging, they can drag you down. The key in any of these work-school combinations is to find the right positions where you can grow a lot and get good experience.
  9. Jul 17, 2006 #8
    Again, thank you very much berkeman, I have one more question, then I promise I'll quit picking your brain.

    I'm starting to think against the Physics double major, since I'm not really that interested in aerospace. So if I were to stick to just the EE degree (and maybe the internship as well, but I'll have to talk to my advisors to get more advice on that) and not double major in anything else, I would be very close to minors in math, physics, and csci (about 7 more classes total, which wouldn't be terribly difficult to do, because of some AP courses and what not I've taken). So I guess my question is how much would these minors help in the job hunt, and just general understanding of Electrical Engineering? You've kind of steered me towards at least the Csci minor, but do many people you talk to have two (or even three) minors? And do they do much to help? Or would I be better served just taking some extra EE classes or other electives?

    Thanks again for all your help, I'd bother my advisors if school were in session, but I'm trying to get some opinions so I can stay on top of things, and you seem like your about as knowledgable as they come. Thank you very much.
  10. Jul 17, 2006 #9


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    I think the extra math and physics can be a plus if it helps to prepare you for an EE specialty that you are pursuing. Like, if you want to work in wireless communications system design, the more math and physics the better. And also if you really enjoy math and physics, heck, take the extra classes for fun! Physics is really my first love, but I cut back on Physics and got my EE based on financial reasons. But I sure miss Physics, which is one reason that I lurk here in the PF forums so much. Great place.

    Not true. I'm just a fast typist. Always take advice from strangers with a grain of salt, and keep in mind that your situation could easily be different. Good luck. -Mike-
  11. Jul 17, 2006 #10


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    Hi Pete,

    I'll add some of my own thoughts to the mix. Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm a senior design engineer for a company called Intersil. I'm also a part-time graduate student at Stanford, pursuing an MSEE.

    Does a Stanford degree make you more likely to get a position? It depends entirely on the company. There are a few companies that literally will not even interview you unless you've been to an elite school like Stanford, or are the only person on the planet who has some specific skill they need. A few high-profile companies (e.g. Google) have their pick of tens of thousands of applicants, and pretty much only hire other "good ol' boys" from schools like Stanford.

    On the other hand, the vast majority of companies will hire you if you seem competent to do the work they need done, regardless of your formal training -- especially after a few years of experience. I know of a number of very competent people who were educated by the Navy or got some kind of vocational training, then worked hard and climbed the ladder of responsibility, and would now be hired by just about any company they wanted to work for. We also have a huge number of people who studied overseas at schools I've never heard of -- some of them might not be highly-esteemed, but the people are still very competent, so it doesn't matter.

    In my experience, most employers don't care at all if you got your MSEE from the same school as your BSEE.

    Once you get to the higher ranks in major corporations, you'll find a lot of people who have studied all sorts of different fields earlier in their lives. We have people here who did computer security, others who have physics degrees, you name it. It definitely doesn't hurt to have a well-rounded education.

    It may even come as a surprise how much of the job interview process is social, even when it's not supposed to be. If the interviewer leaves the room thinking you'd be a fun person to work with, you will likely get an offer. Well-rounded candidates essentially have more to talk about with the interviewer and have a higher likelihood of having something in common with him/her. This makes the interviewer more likely to view you as a peer, and more likely to think favorably of you after he/she leaves the room. I have literally had interviews which included 30 minutes of talking about the kind of telescopes I like to use, and whether or not I like certain kinds of eyepieces -- at an interview for an EE position.

    As far as internships are concerned, I see two favorable paths, one of which is a series of summers or semesters interning. The other is to get involved with research projects on your own campus, which you can do year-round. Both give you the same sort of "real world" experience, and both look great on a resume. I was heavily involved in the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team at Virginia Tech, and the experience was so rewarding that it's still on my resume, six years later. I also wrote several papers on my work for undergraduate research credit, so the project actually helped me graduate earlier.

    I also agree that some computer science experience is invaluable for EE work. These days, almost everything is done on a computer, and a good UNIX and scripting skills are just about necessary. I don't intend to push you to do a CS double-major -- that would likely be overkill -- but investing some time in some programming and UNIX classes will definitely pay off in the future.

    (Also, I should mention that I was hired for my current position with only a BSEE and about 5 years of experience. I'm attending Stanford remotely, taking my classes online, and my company is paying for it through a tuition-reimbursement program. It'll take me a total of about four years to finish the Master's, but I actually think I'm happier doing it this way, getting paychecks every two weeks, than I would be if I were attending full-time. I also don't think I would have been admitted to Stanford without my experience and corporate backing. There's always another way to get things done!)

    Good luck!

    - Warren
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2006
  12. Jul 18, 2006 #11
    Intersil is analog and mixed signal company correct? I attend a talk by the vice president of engineering. Pretty cool guy.
  13. Jul 18, 2006 #12


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    Indeed, Corneo. I don't wish to name names, but your talk was likely given by my boss's boss. :biggrin:

    - Warren
  14. Jul 18, 2006 #13

    I got my first IT job because I played Everquest and had a high level character, way higher then my interviewer:approve: . We hardly talked about the job at all, but I knew as I walked out of the room that I had it.

    Sorry, I'm having way to much fun on the board tonight:smile: .
  15. Jul 20, 2006 #14
    Thanks for the replies everyone :) You've given me a lot to chew on for the next couple years...I know my situation is probably different than yours, but I like to get some opinions from different peoples. The more input the better, I always figure.

    One more question: if I can only get two minors out of Csci, Physics, or Math, which are the best options, in general? I haven't really picked out a specialty in EE yet, but overall, which would help out the most? Thank you all again
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