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Is a College Degree Worth My Time?

  1. Feb 10, 2008 #1

    I'm a newbie here in the Physics Forums so I'll go ahead and introduce myself. I have my A.S. degree in Engineering from a community college and I've always done well in school. I have a high GPA and have won scholarships and other awards.

    However, I am in a quandary and am wondering if all you smart people reading this can offer me some advice. I have to make an intensely difficult decision about going to the University: To go or not to go?

    You see, there are pros and cons, and I'm weighing them but they just about come out even for me. I currently have a very negative (but I believe realistic) outlook on the job market and the economy. We are in a recession in the United States. We are also outsourcing our manufacturing and Engineering jobs--a trend that will continue.

    Q1: With all the outsourcing, will there be any jobs left for me in 2 years when I graduate with my BSEE?

    Q2: If there are any jobs left, how long will they last before they get outsourced and I lose my job?

    Currently I am self employed and absolutely love the freedom that this gives me. I also believe I have the potential to make a lot of money in the future doing this. I'd hate to lose this freedom.

    Q3: Will getting a BSEE degree mean working for someone else and losing my freedoms and cherished ability to make my own decisions? I believe it will. Am I right?

    Q4: Is there a possibility to work for myself using my BSEE degree? If so, how?

    There are more cons to getting a BSEE degree. It would require me and my boyfriend to move to another part of the state; he does not know if he can find another job. And the cost of living is higher.

    In addition, attending the University will take up almost all my time; I will have little to no time left to put into my business. Will it crumble? Attending the University threatens my income severely. What will I do if the strain becomes too much? What will I do if I see that my business is crumbling under me and my income goes away?

    I don't know what to do. To go, or not to go?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 10, 2008 #2
    Of course I can't make any predictions for you specifically, but here's some general information.

    Many engineering jobs, especially in manufacturing, are being outsourced. There are some signs that will reach an equilibrium rather than continue indefinitely. Your best chance to avoid being outsourced is to either stay on the cutting-edge or to find work where there is significant infrastructure that can't be moved, e.g., power plants.

    During recessions and downturns, engineers are subject to "wage-busting" or to being replaced by younger, less costly workers. The current trend of hyping an "engineer shortage" makes that worse. However, typically, long-term job loss probably happens to fewer than 10% of engineers (construction workers right now would think that a wonderful number). General agreement is that the way to avoid this is to stay current with technology, be flexible, and don't age :eek:.

    When you get your BSEE, make sure it is from an ABET accredited school, make sure your first job is under a Professional Engineer, and then follow the steps to become a PE yourself (The time varies, so give yourself 5 years). Possession of that license is the only way to practice engineering on your own, although the earning potential of a new PE might be haphazard. Ask around of other PEs.
  4. Feb 10, 2008 #3
    This statement is very true. My job title is manufacturing engineer, but I haven't started to worry about my job being outsourced because my company has already done that! I'm hired after the outsourcing so unless they want to outsource again then I should be safe for a while. Another way to avoid outsourcing is to get into design. Some companies are keeping design work here in the US because they fear the lost of intellectual property rights. You can also work for companies that deal with aerospace and defense work. Those jobs can't be outsourced...easily.
  5. Feb 10, 2008 #4
    My first major was Aeronautical Engineering, but I changed it, thinking it was not practical and that I wouldn't be able to get a job due to the few amount of jobs available and the competition. Is this wrong?

    I like hands on far better than design work. But if I chose a career that is hands-on, my job will get outsourced right out from under me and I will be unemployed.
  6. Feb 10, 2008 #5
    A few years ago when I was earning my A.S. degree in Engineering, I applied for many internship and co-op positions but didn't get a single phone call. I have a high GPA, do excellent in school, have a great resume, but...?

    I've only been able to get clerical jobs and hated them all, either getting fired or quitting. I've only succeeded by being self employed.

    Why will no one even think about hiring me?

    Later on I figured out that employers are looking for vocational skills, but I wasn't taught any in school; I was just taught lots of theory. Employers didn't care at all about that. How was I supposed to get an internship when I wasn't even exposed to anything close to vocational skills? I feel like the educational system failed me, promising me wonderful things and high pay and such, but not letting me know that the private sector doesn't give a damn about math and science, just that you know how to hold a soldering iron and kiss ass.

    I stopped pursuing Engineering and all education for 2 years due to having given up and become discouraged. I didn't know why anyone would lie to me like that; I felt deeply scammed.

    Well now I'm back in school, having figured out that employers still don't care about theory, but they will begin to think about hiring you once you have your BSEE degree because that means you have learned to sit still while being scammed in school, and that you have learned how to appropriately kiss professors' ass. Then they know that you are ready to sit at a computer for hours upon hours using OrCAD and MatLab, not using any of the math or science you learned in school, while knowing how to kiss boss' ass.

    Isn't that how it really is?
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2008
  7. Feb 10, 2008 #6
    Well... you seem to have a very bleak outlook of the industry. I've only been in the industry for 7 months after just graduating with my BSEE last spring. What I am about to say cannot be applied to all employers so read it with a grain of salt.

    I don't do design work. I support products thats already been designed and I try to increase the manufacturing yield. This means if a certain component inside the product fails I have to find the root cause of the problem, whether it is improperly used or manufacturing defect.

    I started with zero engineering experience but my boss believed that with the right proper training, I can be taught. New college graduates aren't expected to know very much. All they are expected of is that they already demonstrated that they know the fundamentals can be trained, just like when they were at school.

    Some jobs will require hands on knowledge and others will not. If your designing circuit boards you will eventually have to physically take your board to a scope and measure signals to see if your design worked or not. Isn't this considered hands on? You may even need to rework your board by soldering on a part here or there.

    Here is a question for you to think about. When you are using OrCad, don't you think about circuit fundamentals? When you are writing scripts for Matlab, don't you use math at all before you code everything up?
  8. Feb 10, 2008 #7
    Some (maybe the good and lucky 25%) engineers never have to face all that and can go to a nice job, do theoretical work, and get respect and good pay, go home at 4:30, and retire after 30 years. The rest live in cubicle hell, are (according to them) underpaid, get no respect, and work impossible hours. You have to do what you do because you like it not because of extrinsic rewards.

    In almost any business you have to be subordinate to customers and management and sometimes that means kissing up to them. If you're an engineer, there will be at least one time in your life when you will drive into a plant in the middle of the Oklahoma outback at 3 in the morning and a big, red-faced, irate foreman will tell you that you have just 3 hours to get the production line back in operation or else he's throwing it and you in the nearest river. At that point, you pucker up and then get to work.

    The bottom line for you has to be: do you like doing engineering? If you do, go for it, endure, and enjoy the good times when they come. If you don't, do something you do enjoy.
  9. Feb 10, 2008 #8
    Is that spoken from experience TVP45?
  10. Feb 10, 2008 #9
    Close. I worked with the guy to whom this happened, though I changed the location. BTW, even though I wasn't there, I ended up kissing up to the plant manger at least once a day over the next three weeks; that usually involved about 15 minutes of his screaming what an incompetent and uncaring idiot I was.
  11. Feb 10, 2008 #10


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    I'm an integrated circuit designer for a large company. We're not outsourcing our engineering jobs to other countries at all; in fact, we're attracting more people than ever from overseas and giving them visas to work here.

    Electrical engineering will be around for the rest of your life, and it will remain one of the easiest professions to find work in for the rest of your life. (Try being a musician instead.)

    Also, there are a few companies that treat their employees like crap, but only a few. Most give their employees great compensation and benefits, because they want to keep your talent. Engineers are highly skilled, valuable employees, at least after they've held a position for a few years.

    - Warren
  12. Feb 11, 2008 #11


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    Yes there will be jobs.

    Indefinitely. I would not worry about your Engineering job being outsourced. Why do you think earning your degree would hurt your business in the future? If anything it would only help it as you would have more knowledge. You may certainly still be self employed with a college degree...I consulted for a few years not all that long ago.

    Again, you can still be self employed with a BSEE. But if you chose to work for someone else, you will lose some, but not all of the decision making process. You will definitely still have to make your own decisions if you work for a company within your capacity.
    Employers don't want mindless sheep working for them, they want self motivated, goal oriented people with lots of initiative.

    Consulting as an individual or with a consulting firm. The firm option usually is more attractive because they quite often help offset the cost associated with insurance.

    Hope that helps...

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