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Physics Leaving PhD. Need advice on my options

  1. Feb 29, 2016 #1

    I'm in a situation where I may have to leave my PhD program (math). Let's not go into the details because I'm not sure how anonymous I am on here. I'm just trying to figure out what my options are at the moment. I have an undergrad in applied math and an MS in physics (not ABET). I'm considering doing either an online bachelors or an online master's in electrical or computer engineering (ABET). I'm also considering a non-ABET masters in electrical and computer engineering from my home state. I am not sure how much the ABET accreditation really matters. I've looked at the ABET website school search, and there are several ABET accredited masters degrees; but for example East Carolina University has an ABET accredited MS degree, but MIT in all its glory does not have any of its many master's degrees accredited by ABET. If I do an engineering degree that is not ABET accredited (like a MS in EE or Comp. E.), will that significantly hurt my job prospects? I think at this point I'm just looking to make as much money as possible so I'd like to go for computer engineering. The other drawback of this approach is that these degrees will cost another 30k at the least, just for the sole reason of getting an ABET degree which I am not sure is worth is since I already have a BS and MS.

    The other option is to just try to get a job with what I've got, and maybe do the degree online while I work. My skills are that I have some experience with Python (MS Thesis, wrote a code that funneled information between two academic fluid dynamics solvers and set up meshes, etc., but it was only about 400 lines), MATLAB (Various numerical methods assignments), Fortran (High performance computing course with MPI), my first ever computing language was Java, and I know a bit about fluids and electrodynamics. I also have a knowledge of plasma physics and a undergrad minor in applied math. I really have no idea what kind of jobs I would qualify for because I feel like a jack of all trades, master of none. Does anyone know what the best option for me to do is?

    edit: I'm trying to avoid teaching jobs because I don't want to get stuck as a teacher for the rest of my life due to not having any applied experience in the workforce.
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 29, 2016 #2
    It depends on the hiring manager. To some it's a big deal, but to others it's not as important. It also depends on the job description. If you want to get a software development position, it won't be an issue. It could be an issue if you want an electrical engineering job.

    Before doing anything else you should probably decide what type of job you would like to have. Do you want to design consumer electronics? Do you want to develop software? What do you want to do?
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2016
  4. Feb 29, 2016 #3
    You'd probably qualify for entry level jobs writing simulations for engineering applications with that background; when I was in more of a job search mode I saw lots of jobs calling for skills in C++/Python/MATLAB/etc doing numerical modeling which called for degrees in Math or Physics alongside the standard engineering/CS ones. You might try national labs; especially those attached to government/military projects if you're ok with that, such as but not limited to Johns Hopkins Applied Physic Lab, Naval Research Lab, Air Force Research Lab, etc and their associated contractors (which are easier to get jobs in). I mention places like these only because they have use for people with fluid dynamics and finite element analysis experience which you seem to have. Provided you got in they'll probably pay for coursework and more credentials; I would do a dedicated job search before doing more schooling if I were in your shoes; EngineerJobs.com and Linkedin have pretty good databases for jobs as far as I can see. Sorry the PhD didn't work out, best of luck.
  5. Feb 29, 2016 #4
    So by extension would that mean it's better for me to get an ABET accredited masters' degree from, e.g. East Carolina University, as opposed to a non-ABET masters' degree from MIT (theoretically)? As of right now I'm considering multiple paths, maybe even finance. I'd honestly just like to maximize my potential future income at this point since I can't really do my dream job anymore.

    Ok thanks, yes I forgot to mention I have some experience with finite element methods as well as finite difference methods and developing solvers with those. I have seen a lot of these on Indeed spread around the country.
  6. Mar 1, 2016 #5
    No. MIT is one of the top engineering institutions in the US. I can't imagine a scenario where a degree from East Carolina University would be held in higher regard than the same degree from MIT.
  7. Mar 1, 2016 #6


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    As a math / physics person considering an engineering field, I suggest that you look into the field of Operations Research. The math skills apply very well. Look for an Engineering department, like Industrial Engineering, that has Operations Research as an option.
  8. Mar 1, 2016 #7
    The only place where I've seen an ABET certification make any difference is as a prerequisite for the Professional Engineering certification. While that may only be anecdotal evidence, over the last 30 years of my career I have not heard of any employer getting worked up over which educational institution a degree comes from.

    Engineering is above all a study of practice, not education. Your education serves as a technical foundation for the career. However, there are many more aspects to an Engineering career than just the technical side. Things like project management, practical financing of a project, interfacing with stake-holders, setting design goals, writing documentation, and reviewing operational and maintenance issues are all part of the career of Engineering.

    Thus your school background, while relevant, is at best half of the picture. As your career progresses it becomes far less relevant. Unlike law, where the school you graduate from is like some sort of pedigree, and your LSAT scores haunt you for life, in Engineering it hardly matters. We expect a graduate, and the ability to learn more. You're only as good as your last few projects.
  9. Mar 1, 2016 #8

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    Right, but MIT is ABET accredited. That's part of why it is highly regarded. Or, more precisely, the ABET accreditation is not an ends and means in itself - it's recognition that the program adequately trains its engineering graduates.
  10. Mar 1, 2016 #9
    Ok I will look into this. It also looks like the Army Corp of Engineers could be an option.

    Thanks. I was thinking of just taking some of my university projects and my MS thesis and improving upon the code I wrote there and making it more thorough and robust so that I could show them to employers. Maybe that would help?

    Its undergraduate programs are ABET, but it does not have any distance learning options for ABET accredited master degrees. However for example, Johns Hopkins has an ABET accredited, fully online masters that I've been looking at. MIT doesn't have anything like that. It's mostly hypothetical anyways, it's not like I'm going to MIT lol.
  11. Mar 1, 2016 #10
    I doubt the interviewers would have time enough to appreciate the aesthetics of your coding style. What they want to see are results. What did the code do? How did you document it? How maintainable is it? That's something you could conceivably convey at an interview.
  12. Mar 5, 2016 #11
    Hello guys. I have had another thought. My undergraduate university (a mostly unknown, low ranked school) has recently gotten its BS in Software Engineering accredited by ABET-EAC in 2012. I could go back there and probably take 5+ courses per semester and knock that degree out pretty quickly after having already suffered through 5 graduate courses per semester in my MS, and I'd qualify to take the FE exam in electrical and computer engineering I think. Does this sound like a stupid idea considering I already have a BS and an MS??
    My options seem to be pretty limited considering my current degrees are not really employable.
  13. Mar 5, 2016 #12
    The fact that a school is relatively unknown means very little to most companies. I pointed out why this is in an earlier post.

    Get the degree and then you should look like a bloody genius to someone in HR.
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