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Leaving Grad School without Ph.D. Now What?

  1. Dec 6, 2011 #1
    Hello all,

    I am seeking some career guidance because I have found myself in an unexpected circumstance. I recently found out (within the past month) that my Ph.D. funding will run out at the end of next semester. I still have years to go until I'm able to defend a dissertation so I feel that my back is against the wall in this situation. After reviewing my options I feel that the most appropriate solution is to convert my Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. into an M.S. degree (in Mechanical Engineering) and graduate by the time my funding is fully exhausted. Now the question is what jobs are out there for someone like me?

    I currently hold a B.A. in Economics, a B.S. in Physics, and an M.S. in Physics. My M.S. in Mechanical Engineering will come at the conclusion of Spring 2012. I have some hands-on project experience and have interned at NASA a few years ago. I seem to favor the aerospace industry but I am very open minded to employment in other industries as well.

    What type of jobs should I be looking for? Will my lack of a Ph.D. hurt my earning potential or career advancement opportunities? What would a reasonable salary be for my first job? (I'm trying to figure out what I'm "worth" so I know what the fair market price is for my employment.) I won't lie, I'll probably end up taking whatever job offers me the most money... unless there is a significantly more interesting job for slightly less.

    I'm still reeling from the impact of my loss of funding and don't yet have a clear career direction. I would appreciate anyone's advice... especially if you are currently employed in industry. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2011 #2


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    Is it possible to find other sources of funding, perhaps by changing schools or projects?
  4. Dec 6, 2011 #3
    Thanks for the inquiry,

    While it may be possible to switch projects or change universities I'm not very interested in doing so because I would lose a lot in the process. I work in the field of orbital mechanics and so does my adviser. Unfortunately I'm the only one who works in this area (at my university) so to switch projects would require learning an entirely new specialization. Funds at my university are more limited now than in the past so the professors are more likely to chose students who have had some experience in their field. Also, my grades are about average which means that there would be a lot of competition (my program accepts a large number of masters students and only has a few spots for Ph.D. students). I have already talked to a few professors about switching to their group but have been met with limited enthusiasm. I'll continue meeting some more but the vibe I've been getting is not a good one.

    The main problem with switching universities is that I'd have to start from scratch with some more coursework and qualifying exams. To tell you the truth, my motivation for the Ph.D. degree has significantly decreased as my myriad of problems has increased (both funding and non-funding related). At a certain point I have to evaluate how much of a loss I'm willing to take. I have realized that I possess nearly zero motivation to start a new program from scratch. This is why I'm interested in understanding what my options may be in industry. If things were going well in my Ph.D. program I probably wouldn't be interested in finding a job right now, but they are not.

    Any thoughts?
  5. Dec 6, 2011 #4
    Hi there,

    You have an interesting set of qualifications. Have you considered doing anything with that B.A in economics? You seem quite well-rounded and I can easily see you fitting in well with a start-up company who could use your diverse skill set.

    Do you have any industry experience?

    I worked with a start-up solar energy company for about a year, and the government is throwing some money at the renewable energy industries so those companies are growing quickly. My old company hired about 15 people in a year and a half span to bring the total from 25 to 40 employees, and management is something that most start-up's lack. I'll keep drawing from my experiences here, but there were basically 4 departments. The R&D, manufacturing, marketing/sales, business administration (grand applications, finances, etc). I think that your physics and engineering background give you a solid R&D and manufacturing base, and the B.A in economics could make you even more relevant to the company. It is likely that you wouldn't be paid a huge amount to start, but you will be surprised at how quickly you become indispensable in a start-up.

    I'm not sure what type of management skills you possess, or if you're interested at all in that type of work, but I think its an interesting idea.

    As for your list of qualifications, I might be concerned that you were "overqualified" for a lot of positions. That is to say that your prospective employers might be hesitant about hiring someone who they believe to be too good for the position, therefore jeopardizing their faith in your longevity. I might suggest laying the enthusiasm on a little bit thicker in the interview to convince them that you are very interested in their industry, even if you're not.

    These are just some thoughts, I hope I helped at least a bit.
  6. Dec 8, 2011 #5

    No I haven't really considered doing anything with my B.A. in Economics. I really don't know how I would use it. I sort of earned it on the side during my undergrad years because I had an interest in it. Any thoughts?

    I haven't given start-up companies much thought either. I am a little concerned about the risk associated with such a company, however. After my grad school issues I'm sort of inclined to minimize the risk of job loss in any way I can.

    It is interesting that I might be considered "over-qualified." I thought that my lack of a Ph.D. would under-qualify me for many R&D jobs in industry. Maybe I'm wrong?

    Thank you for the reply. I welcome further comments if anyone has them.
  7. Dec 8, 2011 #6
    if u have 3 degrees theres something in this world for u to do, trust me
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