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Job vs Academic Experience for MS&E PhD & Future Career

  1. Jun 10, 2015 #1
    Hi all again. I had received very good advice from my previous posts on PhysicsForum. Those advices certainly have helped me to navigate through all the confusions I have for my future career path. So I really appreciate the help from all of you. As I become more informed, I have more specific questions.

    Background info: I have received a bachelor degree in Physics. I am trying to go into Material Science & Engineering. I took the GRE and Physics GRE already. (165 new score, 800 old score, 90th percentile for quantitative, 880, 83th percentile for physics.) I had some research experience and industrial experience (intern for a company) during my undergraduate years. However, my academic research experience wasn't very productive.

    Ultimate career goal: research and development in industries as a scientist.

    Now I am deciding between working full time versus working part time while volunteering in academic research setting.

    I have received engineering job offer, which requires full time commitment. My initial plan was to work under a solid state physics professor at my undergrad university to strengthen my research experience.

    I am not expecting to get paid for doing research. I think it's unlikely and it's asking too much. So I must also work somewhere to pay for my living expenses. I afraid full time job won't give me any extra time to devote myself to actual research.

    So my question is, which one is more beneficial for getting into engineering phd programs or for my future career overall?
    The reason for pursuing a PhD in MS&E is my love for solid state physics and its potential application. People tell me all the time, PhDs don't worth it... By the time I finish PhD, those people with Bachelor degree and tons of work experience will have a higher wage than me. Well... money sounds attractive but I still have a gut feeling that PhD is the way to go.

    i. Work full time for 2 years before I go to graduate school, Sep, 2015-2017. Working full time gives me financial security and a lot less stress. However, I don't know if industry experience can show that I am a good PhD candidate. However, work experience is usually valued over book learning in the real world.

    ii. Volunteering in a lab for 1+ years with a part time job. Volunteering lab may or may not produce good result (good result as in publication and very strong LoR.) Volunteering is also financially risky. Part time employment offers no benefits, no health insurance, no security, and low paid. I am ready to devote 1~2 years working for free in a lab. Although it isn't a lot compared to other people, I still have to pay back my student loan.

    Thanks !
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2015 #2


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    It's not clear to me why you can't just apply for a PhD program now?
  4. Jun 10, 2015 #3
    I tried last Fall. I applied for Condensed Matter Experiment but I couldn't get into the list of school I applied to. I guess I hadn't really thought about how was I a fit to the CME programs and how will the CME programs align with my career goal. I was naive in a way that, "i love physics, so apply and let's see where I go."
    (FYI: I just got my B.S. degree couple months ago. I didn't plan to take any time off between undergrad and grad. But the current situation forces me to take 2 years off.)
    After consulting with professors, friends, and internet, I realized Material Science is a better fit for me.

    So I am trying to strengthen my application before I try again in Fall, 2016.
  5. Jun 11, 2015 #4
    The details are a little vague here, and you don't need to go into them, but if there is any way at all you can get into grad school sooner it would be to your benefit. Maybe someone else has different experience, but I have never known a grad program in the sciences to be interested in what kind of work experience you have after your undergrad but before applying to grad school. That is outside of the normal path, and so is not really part of how the system works in most cases.

    On the other hand, if your goal is to work in industry, an appropriate job could be useful, in so far as it exposes you to the work environment of the field you are interested in, and possibly gains you relevant experience. In order for time spend volunteering in a lab to be truly beneficial to your goal, your work would have to be truly amazing to outweigh work experience. From the point of view of industry, if you were doing something worthwhile, someone would want to pay you for it. Volunteer work is nice, but not really what they are looking for.

    IMO, if you have a job offer in hand, which is what you said above, you should take it.
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