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Job in national lab with MS?

  1. Jun 19, 2011 #1
    Hello, when I finish school I will have an MS in nuclear engineering with second majors in both applied math and physics. I was wondering, if I get a job at a national lab, what will my prospects be vs. someone entering with a phd? After some time there will I be able to do the same work that they undertake? How about climbing the ladder? Any HONEST opinions and/or advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2011 #2
    The vast majority of Nuclear engineers are retiring. The need for people who understand this stuff is acute. An MS would probably serve you very well.

    Also note that there are many nuclear power plants that desperately need people who understand this stuff. The PhD would be helpful, but I suspect you could get one while working there.

    As for ladder climbing, everyone can do that. Technical degrees often hurt you because the managerial crowd know that you don't speak the talk, and play the games that they do.

    Honestly, management is not where it's at if you're a technical person. I have had numerous opportunities to join management, and I have happily walked away from them.
  4. Jun 21, 2011 #3
    Thanks for the reply Jake, however, I am still wondering what type of work I would do vs. a PhD. Would I be doing their grunt work? Would I be able to one day do the same line of work that they do? In terms of getting a PhD, what are the chances that I could earn a PhD while working at a national lab? Could I also get a PE at one?
  5. Jun 21, 2011 #4
    Take this with a grain of salt since this is just hearsay and I never actually worked there, but when I interviewed at Lawrence Livermore a few years ago, one of the interviewers mentioned to me that without a Ph.D., climbing the ladder was *much* more difficult.
  6. Jun 22, 2011 #5
    I don't know what getting the PE is like in other states, but in Maryland you will need four other engineers (at least three of which should have PE certification) to sign your application saying that you're a decent human being. You will also need to document a certain amount of experience working with someone who has a PE (With the EIT I believe you need two years, though I think a post-doc might count as one of those years) and you'll need the signatures of the PE certificate holders who you did your work for.

    There are other options as well. For example, many nuclear engineers worked on submarines and aircraft carriers and thus can not talk about what they did for national security reasons. They are allowed to present a project in lieu of documenting what they actually did.

    Go to the NCEES web site and they'll usually be able to direct you to whatever state regulations are associated with getting a PE registration.

    Yes, you can get a PE while working at a national lab, but I don't know how many other PE certificates you may find among the other employees.

    I will also point out that the PE is not everything that you might think. What it does is that it is a certificate that makes you personally liable for the success of a technical design. It is a mark of technical experience and ethics that you have learned on the job. You are supposed to be the one to make the final design decisions and it is your name on the line. It is not a guarantee of good judgement. It merely means that you ought to know the limits of your own knowledge and when to recuse yourself from making decisions on things you do not understand. And if your mistake is the result of incompetence, you can be sued.

    Nevertheless, I have seen my share of design shortcomings, all made by people with PE certificates.

    The reason I got mine was because our company's General Manager wanted lots of PE certificates in the company for bragging rights. My company has no shortage of certified engineers because it is practically a requirement to become a manager in the engineering division. The funny thing is that my employer doesn't insure staff engineers who use their PE certificates on the job. They only insure managerial employees. Thus, my stamp sits unused in my desk drawer.

    A PE or a PhD can be a ticket toward management (odd: you'd think it would be the other way around). However I can not stress this enough: Good Technical people tend to be poor managers and Good managers tend not to be good technical people. These are orthogonal skill sets.

    Lots of people talk about climbing the management ladder. Some actually go to school for that (the MBA is supposed to be the degree for that purpose). I have to tell you that management is an art. Some are good at it. Many are not. You may find that you enjoy management, or you may find as I have that you enjoy the technical challenges more.

    Figure out what you like and pursue it...
  7. Jun 23, 2011 #6
    I totally agree with this, and would add that management seems *much* harder than engineering. I have known many, many fine engineers throughout my career. If you cut off one of my fingers for each fine manager I've ever met, I could still bowl.
  8. Jun 23, 2011 #7
    Are you me? I have an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering and a dual B.S. in Applied Math/Physics. My specialization in my M.S. program was radiation protection. I had applied to numerous jobs for the power companies as well as national labs without a single bite, except for an HP position at TVA. It may have been possible that since my B.S. wasn't in some kind of engineering, they weren't interested (wanted someone who would easily get the PE license, which is generally harder for physicists). Then again, it may have been my specialization, or that I didn't do an internship anywhere, or my research was entirely my own (not connected to my graduate advisor)nor relating to nuclear power, or any number of other factors.

    Short of it, my specialty is health physics, which is how I (probably) would prefer it.
  9. Jun 23, 2011 #8
    Thank you Jake for the outstanding reply. That really cleared it up for me. Yeah TMFKAN64 I hear you about poor managers, they come a dime a dozen.

    Daveb, actually I got a BS in nuclear engineering before going for the MS. Because I wanted a broad knowledge of what is going on in the tinyverse I decided to add on both math and physics second majors to make it happen.
  10. Jun 23, 2011 #9
    Oh and wish you best of luck daveb with finding a job.
  11. Jun 23, 2011 #10
    Ah, then with the BS you shouldn't have a problem. As for me, I'm an RSO.
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