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Engineering Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineering PhD in industry and associated incentives

  1. Sep 9, 2012 #1

    I'm currently a master's student in mechanical engineering, only for about 2 weeks now. I can say that my adviser would really like me to pursue a PhD under him, though he doesn't tell me that explicitly maybe because he doesn't want to seem like he's enforcing it on me. He would much rather I come forward of my own accord. I came in here open to the idea of a PhD depending on my rapport with my professor and the research and both have been great as of now thankfully. His research involves multiphase flows (mostly flow condensers and boilers) for microgravity (and microscale) applications and that would include thermal management for space, electronic cooling, etc. My background and experience are mostly with computational research hence I'm working with his computational group currently. The work is very challenging and (maybe hence) equally motivating.

    I do not see myself headed for a life in academia but I do see myself in a career of research and development. So my primary question is about the opportunities for this research in the industry. Do you think the bigwigs of the electronic industry would want someone of my background after a PhD? What about national labs? I'm not really considering space research labs though that is a very obvious application of the kind of work I will do to get a PhD because I'm a temporary resident of the US (on an F1 visa) and I believe that only citizens and permanent residents have the opportunity of working with NASA, for instance. Also, how much do PhD graduates make in the industry on an average? I heard some horror stories of guys who completed their PhD and starting off with a $60k salary. That is way too less for the kind of commitment and hard work that goes into a PhD, I think. Also because I could probably quite easily get a job that pays $70k on an average after only a master's. I know it sounds shallow and materialistic but I believe I should be worth a lot more after a PhD.

    Sorry for rambling on about this but it's something that's been eating into me for many days now, also because I would probably finish my PhD earlier if I switch over from a Master's to a PhD earlier than say finishing my master's and then starting off as a doctoral candidate. I would really appreciate any useful comments on this from people both in the industry and in academia. Again, sorry for the long post.


  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2012 #2
    Re: Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineering PhD in industry and associated incenti

    That reason alone is not worth it to you to do a PhD. Get the master's and get out then get paid. I'm going into my 3rd year of a PhD and if making money was my main concern for getting a PhD then I would have failed out by now. It's a hard long road.
  4. Sep 10, 2012 #3
    Re: Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineering PhD in industry and associated incenti

    I'm not talking about the pay while on your PhD or say the pay you would get pursuing a Post Doc or an academic position. I know that my peers who decide to take up a job after their master's will definitely earn way more while I'm still in school and I'm more than okay with that. I'm talking about industry pay for a PhD as opposed to a Master's student. I mean what is the pay off after a PhD? I'm not getting into a PhD because I want more money, I'm getting into it for the research and the opportunity to create new products/systems either during my PhD or after I graduate in industry. All I'm asking is if a research position will pay more than an engineering position in a corporation?

    Please don't take the 'moral high ground' and give me an answer concerning ethics or the reason to get into a PhD. I'm not doing a PhD in modern art or the history of football. I want to do a PhD in engineering that would involve research into systems that can be engineered and have the potential to earn a lot of money for a corporation if I succeed and they implement it.

    Thanks for your reply but it was not at all what I was looking for. Please comment if you understand what I'm saying.
  5. Sep 13, 2012 #4
    Re: Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineering PhD in industry and associated incenti

    There is no financial payoff for getting a PhD in engineering. None. I do think I understand what you're saying, you want to know if a PhD grad will make more starting out than someone who left with a Master's and has a few years of experience under their belt.

    Well, in my experience the starting pay for a PhD grad is a bit higher that a MS grad, but it is more or less the same on average as an MS with 3-5 years experience. So, what that means, is most likely you'll be making the same salary (about) as an MS grad when you are both in your 40s.

    So... since the MS grad got paid for 3 or 4 more years while you were eating Ramen studying for your PhD you can see there is a huge opportunity cost in getting a PhD.

    For a purely dollars-and-cents standpoint getting a PhD in Engineering is a suckers bet.

    Now, I say this as someone with a PhD in Electrical Engineering. I'm not taking any kind of moral high ground here. I accept that I made a decision based on a range of factors, only one of them is money. I love my job and I jump out of bed every morning to get to it. But, I have less money overall than if I had left with an MS.

    By the way, most companies make money by applying research done by others in order to make products. There are exceptions, but usually doing research does not lead to riches (although in my case it has led to a comfortable, happy life). I did my time in a startup, and let me say there that they really make you earn your money.

    As for your question as to if a research or products-oriented position gets paid better? Well, researchers get a nice salary, that's for sure, but the only way to get big bucks in industry is to assume a leadership role in a products group. This can lead to becoming a design director, then a group leader, then a VP and so on. This takes a lot of skill, effort, and time. A bit of luck can help too. In contrast, there isn't that much "advancement" in research compared to product design and engineering.
  6. Sep 13, 2012 #5


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    Re: Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineering PhD in industry and associated incenti

    But doesn't earning a PhD in engineering open up opportunities that may not be available (or as easily available) to those with only a BS or MS (including faculty positions)?

    One of my very first jobs out of graduate school as a statistician was with an engineering company (a spin-off company from my alma mater) specializing in robotics and automation, and it was practically a requirement for the engineers there to either possess a PhD or be on their way to earning a PhD.
  7. Sep 13, 2012 #6
    Re: Opportunities for a Mechanical Engineering PhD in industry and associated incenti

    Well, academia offers lower salaries than industry (I took a 20% pay cut to get into academia) so yes, a PhD opens up lower paying opportunities. That was a bit glib but when you see breakdowns of MS salary vs PhD salary, keep in mind the PhD holders are usually older on average... I got my first real professional job at 28).

    It is also true that there are organizations (and sub-specialties) where a PhD is either required or opens up more opportunities, like your example. These are very much the exception to the rule. In the startup I worked at, the CEO and CTO had PhDs (the current CEO has an MS), while the VP of Engineering and the Design Director I worked for had MS degrees. Among the design engineers I had a PhD and one other designer did as well. The other 6 guys (we were all guys) had MS degrees. We all had roughly equivalent salaries. I would say the possession of a PhD was at best weakly correlated with the position in the company. And don't forget the opportunity cost. If you make an extra 10% to start because of the PhD you'll still never catch up. Remember the OP was asking about money, not all the other facets of "opportunity".

    I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just trying to remain focused on the question. And I'm not complaining... I think getting a PhD was the right move for me.
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