Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Programs Masters now Continue on to PhD or Enter Industry?

  1. Nov 28, 2007 #1
    I'm trying to weigh my options early to decide whether it's best for me to go on to a PhD program after I finish my MS in physics or go into industry.

    A little background: I'm in my first year (first semester, at that) of my MS program in physics. I'm at the same school I completed my BS in physics at (San Diego State University), which isn't a highly recognized department by any means (although I really like it). My undergrad GPA was 2.85 while my last 60 was 3.1 and my last 30 was 3.56 and I will receive a 4.0 in the 6 units I'm currently enrolled in. I'm also a TA for physics at SDSU.

    My research will be in experimental condensed matter physics (superconducting materials to be more specific). My adviser has close ties with Univ. of Montana's program as well as Univ. of Iowa so I see myself likely heading to one of their PhD programs after I finish, although I'll be applying to others.

    My end goal is to get a job in industry. I'd potentially like to move on to patent agent work (or attorney) after being in industry for at least a solid few years and getting "real life" experience under my belt. I'm really really enjoy teaching but I can't stand the grant money/department politicking that has to happen to go on to a tenured professor position at a university.

    So, the question is: Do I get a job with an MS degree or go for the higher degree and go into industry from there? What kind of pay difference am I looking at? What sort of positions would I be applying for, assuming they'll be different depending on the degree?

    I've already asked myself (and answered the basic questions).

    Will I mind moving to a new environment? No. Both my gf (whom I live with and who would be coming with me) and I have already talked about moving to Montana or Iowa or elsewhere and we'd look forward to the temporary change.

    Is money an issue at the moment? No. We'd be fine living off stipend money while I'm there. She has her teaching credential and will have her masters in sociology by the time we'd move. She would work. I would have my stipend and we would be ok.

    Do I like doing research in a university environment? Yes. But I don't want to overshoot my goals. I'm looking for that happy balance between time put into a degree and career stability/salary.

    Sorry for the long-winded post but I've seen the questions asked by responders so I thought I'd answer most of them outright. Thank you in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2007 #2
    Well I can tell you up front that a PhD provides little to no benefit in patent work. You might want to take some time to really understand what is involved in patent work as well, because it may not be what you hope.

    As for industry, I've already made the choice you are making now - I'm skipping the PhD. PhD's do have value, but it is about the same value as an employer gives to 1-3 years of experience working. So how would you rather end up making that same amount of money - 3 years of uni, or 1-3 years of work? Some of its personal choice. If there is any chance you are interested in working in academia, the PhD might leave you with more opportunities. In industry, on the other hand, I think the PhD will leave you with fewer.

    Its a tough call, but the hard truth is that the US has been overproducing physicists (and engineers, actually) for forty years. If you are questioning whether you want to join that particular rat race, I'd suggest that's already evidence enough you might want to skip it.
  4. Nov 29, 2007 #3
    I said that more just to let people know what possibilities I was entertaining. It is an option. But one I wouldn't seriously consider until I was much older/experienced.

    That's a great point.

    I'm assuming you mean physics PhDs. So, it's safe to say that the market for PhDs is oversaturated, i.e. more PhDs than there are jobs for PhDs? But the MS market isn't oversaturated? That's the main question I guess I'm trying to get answered.
  5. Nov 29, 2007 #4
    And, of course, thank you for the reply. It helps a lot getting answers from people who have already made the leap.
  6. Nov 30, 2007 #5
    I'm going to ask a couple people who graduated ahead of me and have gone on to PhD programs or industry already, but anyone else have any input on this? I'd really appreciate it.
  7. Dec 1, 2007 #6
    As far as I can see, the money is the same for Phd's and Masters in industry. The difference is that Phds get the more interesting and difficult work. This is not always true. I don't have a Phd and my work is interesting and I have even had a Phd working for me. However, in general, the Phds are doing the more sophisticated stuff, masters a step below and BS in engineering the grunt (but still interesting) work.
  8. Dec 1, 2007 #7
    Wildman: can you still "move up the ladder" with a MS to get to work on the level that PhD's work on?
  9. Dec 3, 2007 #8
    I am in a smiliar situation. In my second year of grad school trying to decide if I want to get a masters and head into industry or stay around and get a PhD.

    I have heard other people say similar things that Wildman said, but I was wondering if anyone could elaborate any on that subject. Is it possible to make up the difference between a masters and phd with experience only? Or will there be a definite cap on the types of projects I can work on?

    I really want to get started in industry but I don't want to be stuck with boring projects.

    Are there any graduate schools that offer physics phd programs where you work in industry at the same time as earning your phd?

    Thanks for any insight.
  10. Dec 4, 2007 #9
    Bump. I'd really like to know if you can get a Ph.D. as an intern, too... I doubt it, though. :(
  11. Dec 5, 2007 #10
    That would be amazing. I really would like to continue on to a PhD but if the pay out isn't worth the 4-7 years after already finishing my BS in 6 years (I know, I messed up) and my masters in 2 I'd like to get moving on a career. I still have a full 6 months to really make a decision and this input is really helping. I feel like everyday I'm change my mind.
  12. Dec 5, 2007 #11
    Just reread the quote I quoted and I might have misunderstood. I was saying that it would be amazing to have a job and also have them support you through a PhD. I know many companies do that for their employees with other degrees like masters or law but I've never heard of it for a PhD. It'd be great to get the experience and the advanced degree at the same time.
  13. Dec 5, 2007 #12
    Well getting the advanced degree means getting experience. From what I've seen, the grad students here basically make their own experiment (not completely independent, of course) and report their findings, so they basically are working, they just aren't getting paid much, which is my entire beef. I don't want to make $20k/year until I'm 30.
  14. Dec 7, 2007 #13
    I don't think companies necessarily see it that way. I agree that they wouldn't dock you for the PhD experience at all, but the actual in-house experience with a company producing products is different, in my opinion.

    If you were HR in an industry company, would you hire someone who's worked in another company for 5 or 6 years on various projects or someone who has a PhD but no experience in the work place? I don't know. Obviously there are other things to consider, like what the position exactly is. I know companies have jobs geared towards pure research, which is what they would look to the PhDs for, but would having an MS and 5 years of experience still not be enough to get the same job? In other words, where is the ceiling with having an MS degree in physics in an industry environment?
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2007
  15. Dec 7, 2007 #14
    I agree with upshotbidder. I have spoken with many people that work in industry over the years, some who obtained a phd first (mostly because they weren't sure whether they wanted to go to academia or not, so felt it was the safe choice - then ended up in industry) and the concensus seemed to me to be that candidates with a phd can actually be at a disadvantage. I think the most important point is that a PhD is basically a course where the student will immerse themselves in a very specific subject area - becoming an expert in this specific point. Hence, the candidate fresh out of University will be more predictable in terms of their knowledge - fluent with the tools needed to tackle a physics degree.

    Whereas, a PhD student has spent 3-4 years on [one] particular problem, a problem that isn't necessarily in any way useful with whatever your industrial job could involve. I have found that industry favour a fresh, unbiased look on their training programmes - not only this, I have heard it said that PhD's can be seen as a signal of over-ambition (not a good thing) and employers can become nervous and apprehensive about hiring such an applicant.
  16. Dec 8, 2007 #15
    Okay, but how high is the glass ceiling for someone with a Master's vs. someone with a Ph.D.?
  17. Dec 8, 2007 #16
    Not that I work in industry, but I would hazard a guess that the class ceiling doesn't exist. I would think this because someone with a PhD isn't necessarily more qualified (or knowledgeable, depending on how you look at it) about whatever the industrial jobs involve. Plus, as far as I am aware, most industrial work doesn't require a PhD which should reasonably mean that it is at least not out of reach of those with an honors degree.
  18. Dec 11, 2007 #17
    Just an update on my findings based on talking to people I trust.

    Basically, the PhD doesn't necessarily guarantee you a better job when applying to industry positions. If you "only" have a masters in physics and start working in a company, prove yourself to your employers and coworkers, when that job opens up that you would be applying for with a PhD, hopefully higher in pay than your masters starting job, you'll be in fine shape to have worked your way up to it. Not only that, you'll have made contacts and connections with people in industry positions as well. These could lead to other jobs, branch-off companies, etc. The PhD might actually leave you without those valuable contacts. Sure you'll have great references in academia but those don't so much translate over to industry straight away.

    The downside of not getting the PhD is that you'll be closing the door almost permanently on any hopes of a career in academia. For me, that was already a moot point. I have all but made my final decision in that I will be applying for jobs come next year. (I'm in my first semester of my masters program as of now, in case you didn't read all the way back, or forgot.) Anyway, thanks!, everyone, for the help. I hope this can help other people in the same situation. And, please, feel free to tear my opinion to shreds. I welcome other arguments openly.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook