What is it like to work as a materials engineer as a civilian with the Department of Defense?
I can only partially address your question, but let me tell you what I do know.
The general attitude in the military is "if you are dumb enough to work for us, you're too stupid to do anything useful." The military always farms out all of the important engineering work to contractors because they have no confidence in their own people. I say this from seven years spent in a Navy Lab, and it was an utter waste of that part of my life.
My advice is to stay away from working directly for the military.
I can't speak to Dr.D's experience; but I work for a Navy lab directly as civilian, my background is physics and electrical engineering but I work with a few materials engineers (mostly masters level and a couple of PhD's) who are also DoD civilians. They love their jobs AFAIK, I'm relatively new but I'm liking it, but my co-workers and I might've lucked out with a particularly good department; we get to work on interesting and IMO intellectually stimulating projects and there's lots of room to grow and actually move around and get knowledge breadth with rotations and such. It isn't sunshine and rainbows here though, there's lots of frustrations to go around just because of the nature of the DoD work infrastructure (IT is a bit of a nightmare for example) and their isn't always the subject matter expertise that's needed or it can be flat out ignored till way late in the life cycle. Everyone's miles will vary working for the government.
One of the fun parts of working for the US Navy as a civilian was being required to use a government credit card for all travel. The then led to repeated (about monthly) required "training" on how to use a credit card, roughly a half hour wasted time watching an inane video and taking a computerized test. Having a PhD, being a registered professional engineer in two states, and 40+ years of work experience does not exempt one from being treated like you are in junior high school.
I've just gone through this actually, lol
I understand that at my old lab, they now have to do credit card training on a monthly basis, as well as the frequent training about how to check into a hotel (what floors are acceptable for your room, etc), how to keep your government passport secure and out of sight, when to go to the bathroom, etc. It would be a wonderful life if your IQ is well below room temperature.
Over the time when I was an Air Force civilian, they must have changed the travel rules 2-3 times with the requisite new training every time.
However, this was not my experience at all. My experience was that the Air Force chain of command afforded my civilian colleagues and I the highest levels of respect, at least equal to what we experienced in our prior non-DoD jobs. There was a lot of bureaucratic time wasting silliness, but when it came to science and engineering issues, the civilian scientists and engineers had full confidence.
Thank you all for the responses.
I am within a year of graduation from my program, so does the Navy or Air Force, for example, hire newly graduated candidates? Would this be a good first step to begin my career as a materials engineer?
In general they do when they have openings. Check the USA Jobs web site to look for current openings. The Dept of Defense has had reduced funding (thus reduced hiring) since 2011 or so.
The government likes to hire young engineers fresh out of college that have no experience of a decent professional job. Then they apply the "golden handcuffs" (job security, ridiculously high salary, good benefits) and proceed to treat their new employees like lab techs. They are never allowed to rise above that, unless they show management potential (i.e., they play the game well). True professional work is virtually unheard of, and employee morale is generally through the floor.
I would always encourage new graduates to get a real job working for a company that needs to make a profit. The government never needs to make a profit, and thus tolerates and indeed encourages, the most absurd treatment of employees. Ask a postal worker!
Not been my experience at all, take what's being said here with heavy grains of salt.
I work for the Navy at one of the labs, I am not a newbie, new hire to the Navy but not a newbie by any stretch, but was recruited out of industry at an equivalent to a GS-15 paygrade, that is equivalent to about a Commander or Lt Col. I have not seen where the active duty guys look down on me or my co-workers, matter a fact, the military liaison to my division is extremely interested in my technical opinion and given the fact that I am a vet, gets me more respect.
The one thing I will say for hiring someone just out of school is that they get a lot of experience quickly but compared to their industry brethren, don't learn anything deeply. i.e they see a lot of stuff but don't get to work on one thing to it's rightful conclusion. I have always said that the govt should hire talented people from industry as opposed to new-grads who's diploma is still wet. A co-worker asked me to come down and look over his guys shoulders and investigate/guide the progress of a long term project, now I don't think he'd have done that if I hadn't earned my chops in industry.
My suggestion is to start applying on USAJobs.gov and in the mean time, go get an industry position. It will take a year or more to get hired by the govt so having that experience won't hurt.
Not been my experience, took me a matter of months out of a job fair; I do know colleagues who've been waiting longer than that (a year) for clearances though.
Took me almost a year, I am recruiting a person, we plan on getting them at the earliest late next summer and we are on a compressed schedule. My comment of a year is a generalization, I have seen people hired in 3 months whereas others well over a year.
For those who have worked in government, is the work experience viewed as attractive by companies in the private sector?
That depends on the details. Some companies are all about your skills and look at your prior experience in that light. Unless the government job increased specific skills, it may not be attractive. But working in the DoD is viewed as attractive by most companies whose main market is the DoD.
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