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

Nuclear Engineering PhD vs. Master's

  1. Sep 10, 2006 #1
    I am a Nuclear Engineering grad student who just started working toward my PhD. I was totally convinced with my decision to pursue a PhD until I recently was told that you can become overqualified by getting such an advanced degree (vs an MS). Overqualification never crossed my mind until I had been told this; and it makes so much sense that there is a point where someone can become overqualified, i.e. they are too expensive for the company. According to you, what is the better route to go: PhD or Master's? I would like if you could reply to this question, adding supporting views pertaining to things such as salary, over/underqualification, job satisfaction, career outlook, time vs. benefit, etc.

    Some people say that the few extra years for a PhD never pay off, while other say that when you integrate over time, it does. Also, the reason I came back to grad school was because of the extreme boredom that I encountered when I worked in the industry with my BSNE. All opinions and comments are welcome, Thanks.:smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2006 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I would recommend getting a PhD, if you have that opportunity. If you've started it, see it through. I would strongly recommend an advanced degree, at least an MS if not a PhD.

    A PhD probably has a greater potential for a higher salary, but that also depends on the area of expertise. The more one's expertise is in demand, the greater the potential for a higher salary.

    As for time and benefit, the faster one can get through the PhD program, the better. Two-three years would be optimal. The longer one stays in, the less benefit afterward.

    The suppliers of the technology, BNFL/Westinghouse, Areva, GE, Hitachi, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Enusa, . . . are paying premium salaries for people at the moment. MS and PhDs have a 'golden opportunity'. But - will it last? If no one orders a new plant soon (although apparently two units have been ordered by NRG energy to be sited at South Texas Project), all those plans could come to a screeching halt. The nuclear industry is a bit like aerospace with cycles of boom and bust - well quite a few technology sectors seem to do that.

    My company basically prefers MS or PhD in particular areas.

    In general salary is commensurate with experience. That's pretty much universal.

    Re: over/underqualification - I think that many (a lot of) people may be underqualified. Even a PhD could be underqualified depending on his/her knowledge of the industry and the technical challenges. One may be overqualified for a particular job, but there are plenty of other opportunities elsewhere, so don't worry about that.

    Job satisfaction comes with accomplishment, and IMO is independent of whether one has an MS or PhD.

    The best way to avoid being overqualified and to ensure job satisfaction is to diversify knowledge, experience and expertise.

    Career outlook for nuclear is tough (see above). Much depends on the future development and really demand for the technology. Also, there is the matter (incentive) of government support, and that can change depending on the predilections and vagaries of any number of individuals, e.g. the president, a senator, or congressperson. NASA and DOE (National Labs) hire a lot of PhD's. Manufacturers and utilities hire some.

    Utilities are heavily business (corporate, accounting) driven. Actually, the manager (CEO, pres, VP's) like big salaries, and their motivation is more about salaries (really total compensation) than profit and shareholder value. At least, that is my observation. I have observed that utility personnel are overworked, while the top level executives are overcompensated, but then that is true of most US corporations. :rolleyes:

    The best way to ensure a productive career is to master the technology and diversify knowledge. Diversification also increases opportunities outside of nuclear, particularly if one has good knowledge of materials, mechanics of materials, and experience with multiphysics simulation and numercial analysis.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook