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I like science and math but I hate working in industry

  1. Feb 16, 2016 #1
    I normally would have put this in the grad school section, but the question is more pertinent to choosing a career path.

    So basically at one point in time I was in a graduate program. I left pretty early due to funding issues as well as some personal issues that I needed to resolve. I ended up in industry - where I have been for the last two years.

    I did pretty good in undergrad: 3.44 cum, 3.65 major GPA plus a time consuming extra curricular activity involving UAVs (not quadcopters, we built actual planes!). I found that I really enjoyed the academic environment. School was the first place that I really felt like I fit in - I was "riding the wave" so to speak. My life had never gone smoother.

    Unfortunately grad school didn't go as smooth, so I left. That was a long story in itself so Ill spare you the details. This year I decided to try again and apply to PhD opportunities. There is a very strong chance Ill have an offer with good funding. This offer will be working on nonlinear dynamics and control of UAVs - right up my alley!

    So, my concerns:
    1) I don't want to be disillusioned. I absolutely hate sitting at a desk all day. I hate being swamped in paperwork doing mostly uncreative garbage. I hate corporate culture, I hate having a strict 9 to 5 routine, and I really hate having so little time to pursue what I enjoy. Yes, financially I am doing ok, but without having the time to enjoy my work, whats the point? And I hate being watched/having no privacy all the time (currently work in a cube farm). What I am worried about is going to grad school, doing my PhD, and ending up in a similar spot that I am now.

    2) Ill admit I am pretty scared that grad school wont go so well again. I left because the biweekly stipend was too low (600/month) and would require me to take out loans to pay for living expenses. Also, I had some personal problems with PTSD which made me question why I was going in the first place, and that spiraled into depression.

    3) I am wondering if I should even stay in engineering at all. Like I said, I love math and sciences but I cant stand engineers. I think that is the worst part of my job actually. I hate being around anti social people. A lot of them are very boring or lack life experience - making them naïve. These aren't malicious attributes, but as someone who likes to have fun, is outgoing, and has been down some interesting roads in life, I find the engineering social circle miserable. I've thought about being a bar tender and working on my projects in my free time. Or opening up my own gym and continuing my studies in my free time. Both require more money than I have at the moment.

    4) the student debt is a bit of a concern. My loan balance will balloon due to interest, but if I get a higher paying job my debt to income ratio might actually be lower, so I should theoretically be in a better financial position. This is contingent on getting a good paying job though or by some miracle the debt disappears.

    So..what should I do haha??
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2016 #2


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    Here is a question I would like to pose to you before I, or anyone else, can respond with the rest of your questions. Based on your current salary at your workplace, how long would you estimate it would take to fully pay off your current student debt?
  4. Feb 16, 2016 #3
    Ive got a loan balance of about 58 grand with an interest rate of about 6.4%. Im paying about $550 a month now because I want more money in my savings. If I moved back home (which I really don't want to do) I could probably lay out another $500 a month. If I stopped saving money right now but didn't move home I could lay out another $300 a month to the loans. I don't agree with the mainstream philosophy that debt should be paid down before saving - based on my experience having cash for opportunities or emergencies is far more important. If I stopped putting money into my 401k I could add another 300 a month.

    So if I stopped saving everything I could pay out:
    $500+$300+$300 = $1100 a month ~= 5 years.

    If I keep at my current rate it will be paid off in 12 years.
  5. Feb 16, 2016 #4
    Now, assuming I get a 1% or 2% raise a year, then maybe more money can be allocated to my loans. My salary after 5 years of raises would be between $65000 and 68500.

    Based on the professors and students I talked to, my income if I went into industry could be (starting) between $90000 and $110000. My debt (if I just stopped paying it) would balloon to about $77617.

    Now there are some tricks I could do to bring that balance lower, but that isn't the topic of this thread.
  6. Feb 16, 2016 #5
    Maybe you just need to try working somewhere else? The office culture of different companies differs quite a bit, even within engineering.
  7. Feb 16, 2016 #6
    Ive thought about it. I worked at another company for my internship and felt the same way. Granted, the people were a little better to work with and it was a smaller group which was also nice, but I still got really annoyed at sitting at a desk all day. I need to move and recharge! Maybe this is an unrealistic expectation?
  8. Feb 16, 2016 #7


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    There are some academic engineering-related* positions that don't require a PhD, but my experience is mainly about Europe, where you do bachelor -> master -> PhD in that order (the US PhD is similar to master+PhD together). On the other hand, you can have two years of related work experience...

    And there are academic engineering-related* PhD positions with a reasonable salary, but those usually require a master degree. I don't know if two years of work experience would count here, the universities often have strict admission rules for PhD candidates.

    *including positions that involve going to a lab and assembling stuff. They still require work on a computer as nearly every STEM job, but not exclusively.
  9. Feb 16, 2016 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Has that changed?
  10. Feb 17, 2016 #9
    If I get accepted into this one program I am guaranteed funding of at least $1600/month. Additionally, in interviewing with the program in question it was strongly suggested that I be considered for a university fellowship. The fellowship will raise my funding for two (maybe 3, I cant remember) years to $2500 a month.

    I emailed the university and they stated that I will be receiving an email of my acceptance shortly. The way I look at it though is until I have a signed contract stating my funding and my acceptance then I will not consider myself "in"
  11. Feb 17, 2016 #10


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    $2500 a month should allow to reduce the loan significantly. One more comment on them, wanted to write it but forgot it in the previous post:
    It is certainly useful to have some money available quickly, but does that amount have to increase by $300 per month? I guess you don't get 6.4% interest rate on that.
  12. Feb 17, 2016 #11
    That isn't an unrealistic expectation. There is a wide variety of technical work available, with varying degrees of desk work. You ought to be able to find something. Out of curiosity, do you not spend most of your time in grad school at a desk, or is that not your experience?
  13. Feb 17, 2016 #12
    I like having cash on hand in case anything comes up. Maybe a lucrative job offer, maybe a car accident. I know many people without savings (also engineers) who have to resort to credit cards. To me, more debt is a mistake. No debt = freedom. I will lower it when I feel like I have a comfortable amount in my long short and intermediate term savings.

    The difference is that when I was in school I could disengage from my work if I needed too. Granted, that did bother me sitting all day, but I felt like if I needed to walk away and think I could do so. Plus the work was more engaging so time went by much faster and I felt more fulfilled. This is a good point you bring up - I do remember being very ant-sy sitting a desk.
  14. Feb 17, 2016 #13
    This is something important to know about yourself. I also dislike sitting for a long time. I have the ability to get up and walk most anytime I feel like it, so I try to do that multiple times every day. When the weather is nice, I go outside. I walk, gather my thoughts, and then plow back into whatever I am doing. Different places probably have different expectations about this is, but it is possible.
  15. Feb 17, 2016 #14


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    Just to add what others are saying and asking here, don't ever stop putting money into your 401K- you'd just be throwing money away if they do any matching. When you leave your job, you can take the money out (with the match) and pay the penalties if you find you really need funds. Otherwise, keep it in the retirement account and roll it over in your next job.
  16. Feb 18, 2016 #15
    That is what I liked about school. If it was a nice day out I could sit outside and work or at least go to a quiet area by a nice window and get my stuff done while relaxed. Not possible in a cube farm at a very conservative company. I got yelled at once because I ate my lunch (I was off the clock) near the water on company property (eating company food I might add)... Really absurd. What Ive noticed in the working world is most of the control freaks (or those who obsess about minutia) end up in middle management.

    One of the reason why I want to do the PhD is because I want to teach and I really thrive on being intellectually engaged. But I have done my research and know that a teaching position at a University is very hard to come by today. There are other opportunities that come with higher education. I suppose I am torn between my love for the subject but not having the personality of a scientist. I am tired too, but that is another issue.
  17. Feb 22, 2016 #16
    My relative graduated from engineering and one of the best universities, has nearly the same job as you..I think for me, even being able to have a job with a salary like yours would be great, let alone being able to actually work in a field I want! so would be willing to take anything.

    best option is to stick it out a little while applying for other companies. 2 years isn't a long time, you can surely change or find a different company that would suit your interests somewhat more. In engineering people always say (especially on here) that degree and level of education is less important, work experience is everything. You're already getting some experience, you just need to stick it out. No, I would not do Phd right now. but thats my opinion.getting a life and stability is also important, a bachelors in engineering is enough for that.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2016
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