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Lost between industry and getting a masters

  1. Sep 23, 2014 #1
    Hi All,

    I am currently in my final year of engineering in Canada, and I'm starting to feel lost about what I want to do in life after graduation... whether to go get a masters or go work in industry.

    In regards to work, I believe my last co-op employer liked me enough to give me a good shot at having a permanent position with them after graduation. However, this company is one in which people mostly like stay until retirement due to job security, benefits and good salary. When I first entered university, this would have been this dream to work for a company for 40 years and retire.

    However, after meeting people throughout my co-op and exploring large cities in North America, I have become more ambitious. In these cities, I met many people who have great desires and want to pursue their passions in academia. Even some friends back in school are forgoing job opportunities to get their masters. These started making me question if I want to go to grad school since meeting people through co-op in large cities have really transformed my view for the future of my life. I am thinking maybe grad school might be an experience that can help me really understand what I want in life.

    Hence my problem. I have never done research during undergrad and have not fostered any deep personal relationships with my professors except for doing well in their class and occasional office hours. I have no idea which prof to ask about recommendation letters required for graduate school; heck, I don't even know if I would enjoy graduate school!

    This dilemma is causing me quite a bit of stress in my final year as I cannot focus on which route I wish to go. I am scared that if I go to industry, I will be less likely to go to grad school since profs will remember me even less, and I may never get a good chance to explore this other interest.

    Can some of you let me know if you have faced this dilemma during your final year? How difficult was it to return to school (ex. above average one like U of Toronto) after several years in industry at first?

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 24, 2014 #2


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    A few comments. Even if you want a career in industry a Masters degree is a good financial investment. It is increasingly becoming the entry-level degree in many subfields. Also, it isn't as challenging to get into a Masters program as it is to get into a PhD program. Unfortunately, while not universal, the trend is to not offer much financial assistance (TA or RA positions), so you may need additional loans. On the other hand, completing a project as part of your MS will make you a more effective engineer and more valuable to companies.

    You don't need letters of rec only from profs. Letters from your supervisors of your co-op and your job if you work first will also be useful. Most people applying to MS programs don't have really strong letters from professors anyway, so you're not at a disadvantage.

    One thing to keep in mind is it is difficult for people to return to school after a few years in industry because they get used to the lifestyle of having disposable income. If you're making $50,000 or so and then you have to go back to living like a grad student for 18 months or so it can be difficult for people.

    To sum up, an MS is a good investment but you can still have a rewarding career without one, although the MS will open some doors for you. If you feel passionate about engineering (particularly design) an MS will create opportunity for you, especially if you network while you're in your program with the companies that sponsor your school.

    Good luck!
  4. Sep 24, 2014 #3


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    Many large engineering companies will pay for you to get your masters while you work.

    however that means you will have work (35-60 hours a week) then class (5-30 hours a week).
    It can be a drag on your social life... but hey if you're an engineer you may not have a social life ;)

    note: I am currently working full time and getting my masters degree. Although it is hard, I find that I still have time to enjoy myself on weekends and the occasional weeknight.
  5. Sep 25, 2014 #4


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    Hi analogdesign. Please note that the OP is pursuing his/her engineering studies in Canada. In Canada, students generally aren't immediately accepted into a PhD program but are required to finish a Masters degree first before proceeding any further. Because of this, Masters degree programs (particularly in engineering) are often split into two categories: (1) an academic track program, and (2) a professional track program (this would of course depend on the particular school).

    The academic track Masters program are often fully funded (including through both TA and RA positions), while the professional track is more often than not not fully funded (although TA and RA positions may still be available).

    To the OP, I would concur with what analogdesign has said that a Masters degree, while not strictly required for a rewarding career, is still a good investment as it will open some more doors for you, as well as provide you with further networking opportunities within your program.
  6. Sep 28, 2014 #5
    Hi Paul, first off, what program are you in? I graduated from Engineering Science at UofT a bit over a year ago now and I am now doing my MASc at UofT. Unfortunately I am kind of the opposite of you in that during my undergrad I only did research. I even skipped PEY (coop year). For me the choice was always grad school.

    However, as I come up to finishing my MASc right now, I have actually decided that next year I would like to go and work in industry for a year, to get that experience before I decide what to do for the rest of my life (PhD vs. industry).

    Since you said you never did any research, what I would recommend is to give an MASc a try! Since you already have the experience of working in industry, gaining experience in the academic community would be invaluable, and will help you make a much more educated decision as to what you want to do for the rest of your life.

    As for actually getting into grad school, it is trickier. However, if you have gotten along well with your supervisors at work I would definitely use them as at least one or two of your letters. In terms of a prof, it is hard, but I would try and talk to a prof with whom you connected with the most, and potentially in a field related to what you want to apply to. If you explain your predicament I am sure they would be willing to help you out.

    I guess my last bit of advice would be to actually go and talk to some professors. If you are at UofT, try and set up some meetings with some profs at UofT who you may be interested in working with. Lots of professors are eagerly looking for students and would be more than willing to help you throughout the application process.
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