# PhD in Engineering - Logistical Questions

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YoshiMoshi
I'm considering a PhD in Engineering and I have some logistical questions.

My Background:
By the time I'm done with my current program, I will have been at least a part time student every fall and spring semester for over 10.5 years. Despite the length of time, I still have the desire to learn more, and feel as if I still haven't learned enough. I got a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, a Master of Engineering in Electrical Engineering, and am currently working on a Graduate Certificate in Systems Engineering. I'm about a year away from completing my current program, so I'll have to make a decision soon.

Questions:
1) I hear all the time that for a PhD you have to do "research", what exactly is meant by this? Is this reading other people's research or going in the field, performing experiments, collecting data, and then drawing a conclusion from this?

2) In a PhD are you really attempting to answer a question that hasn't been answered? I would assume that if this was the case, it would take a significant amount of time, years and years, if not decades. It would also be very costly to manufacturer components that don't currently have the properties you seek. I'm thinking along the lines of "How can I remotely determine if a mechanical switch has failed open without physically actuating it?" "How do I predict imminent failure of component Y?" "What are the effects of switching material A with material B in component Z?" "Can I design a component that has the same characteristic equation as component A but is made of cheaper materials?" "An electrical component that has this characteristic equation does not currently exist, how do I create such a component that does?" "The mathematical analysis to explain this observed electrical phenomenon is not currently know, how can I mathematically explain what is being observed?". Is it these types of questions? I'm just making stuff off the top of my head, I have no idea. I would assume I can come up with some sort of question, and then later find out it has already been answered? I assume I can even come up with questions that can't be answered?

3) Do you get paid a stipend while pursuing your PhD? If so is it comparable to working in industry?

4) Can I work full time while pursing a PhD? I'm part of the working middle class. So if pursing a PhD requires me quitting my job, than I'm not interested. Not working is not an option for someone like me. Taking out a bunch of loans to live off of, is not worth the financial burden to me.

Sorry for the stupid questions. I'm asking these questions because I'm considering it, and want to make sure it's something that I can actually do.

I might answer this in reverse order.

4. No.
To expand a little - a PhD is a full time job. I'm sure you can find examples of people who have worked full time through at least part of their PhD, so it technically is *possible* but they are so few and far between the effective answer is that balancing a PhD with a full time job is not something that anyone should count on.

3. Yes.
Most programs (in physics anyway) support PhD students through some combination of scholarships, stipends, research assistanceships and teaching assistanceships. It's not a lot of money. If you're careful, you can keep from going further into debt, but after tuition, rent, groceries and other essentials, there usually isn't a lot left over.

2 and 1.

jasonRF
I agree with all of Choppy's responses. I'll add the following comments.

(1) For a PhD thesis, "research" refers to original research; it does not refer to merely reviewing and analyzing existing literature in the manner that an undergrad does "research" for a term paper, e.g. The best way to get a flavor of what is expected is to read previous PhD theses. Many universities post them for general access on their websites these days. For example, if you Google "PhD theses electrical engineering MIT", you'll be directed to https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/7599 . Read away.

(2) Pursuing a PhD program while working full time elsewhere is highly unlikely. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. In their glory days (long since gone), places such as Bell Labs and IBM Watson did support employees on a PhD program. But even then they were rare; for exceptional employees. And often the employee's boss was an adjunct professor and served as co-advisor; and often the PhD research was related to company research. I have no clue whether any company still offers such programs.

Whether or not the financial support offered by universities is adequate depends a lot on whether you need to support just yourself, or whether you also need to support a spouse or family.

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jasonRF
YoshiMoshi
Hey thanks for the feedback, greatly appreciate it. So what I'm understanding is that in order to get a PhD you have to be able to afford to quit your full time job, and live off a stipend that is a small fraction of what you make in industry?

I believe it's true, but then what incentive is there to your financial well being to get a PhD? It seems like it would actually be detrimental to financial health.

Staff Emeritus
It seems like it would actually be detrimental to financial health.

The world does not owe you a PhD. Or a living, for that matter.

Hey thanks for the feedback, greatly appreciate it. So what I'm understanding is that in order to get a PhD you have to be able to afford to quit your full time job, and live off a stipend that is a small fraction of what you make in industry?

I believe it's true, but then what incentive is there to your financial well being to get a PhD? It seems like it would actually be detrimental to financial health.
Because there's more to life than just finances. In brief, you need to consider:

(1) Finances

(2) Career development. Will a PhD open up career opportunities that are not available without a PhD? Will these career opportunities offer more career satisfaction? Will these career opportunities offer higher pay [which factors into finances]? The answers are dependent on a large host of variables; such as, your particular circumstances, particular field, particular industry, particular company, and (for large corporations) even particular business unit, division, and functional group within a company.

(3) Personal satisfaction. I know many disagree with me, but a PhD is not necessarily a means to an end; it can be an end in itself. This is in distinction, e.g., to MBA, JD, or MD programs that specifically provide you requisite training and credentials to pursue a career. Research performed while pursuing a PhD can be a satisfying end in itself.

Each of these factors can be discussed in much greater length. If short-term financial hit is your over-riding concern, there probably is no need for further discussion. But if you are interested in further discussion, please ask.

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YoshiMoshi
I know the world does not owe me anything. If I were to get a PhD, the world wouldn't owe me anything or even a penny more increase in pay.

Do you have a PhD, was it worth it?

Financially: Seems like a negative, could you explain the positive of it? Was the bump in pay worth the investment? Was there a positive ROI for you?
I'm just thinking, I'll use round numbers here. In industry say you make $100k a year. So over the course of four years that would be$400k. If I was on a stipend while getting a PhD ($25k seems reasonable?), that would be$100k over for years. So I would loose $300k in income by quitting my full time job to get a PhD, not to mention four years of industry experience.$300k is a great amount of money to loose, could go buy a house with that. I would have to get a significant pay bump to ever get that back before retirement. I would be getting it in Electrical Engineering. I'm not familiar with the job opportunities that would become available to me that I don't currently have access to I guess. Or even what the average median salary would be for that position.

Intellectually: Seems like it's worth it. I still feel like I know absolutely nothing. I would defiantly feel more satisficed knowing that I had a PhD, but like you said, the feeling of knowing absolutely nothing, I'm not so sure would disappear. But at least I would feel satisfied knowing that I did everything I could in school to make that feeling go away.

Answering a question that hasn't already been answered would defiantly be satisfying, but it seems like getting a PhD wouldn't necessarily cover that? If like for example observing some physical phenomena whose explanation for why it's occur is not currently know, and then going and developing some mathematical analysis to explain why it's occurring would be a great accomplishment. But something that would take decades to do, and something your average Joe cannot accomplish.

Sorry if these are stupid questions. Thanks for sharing. It's the only way I can learn if it's worth it or not, by asking people who went through what I'm contemplating doing.

Staff Emeritus
Do you have a PhD

Yes, but I didn't get it for the money. Money isn't everything. And I have plenty of money. I have a comfortable, but not extravagant lifestyle, and can retire any time I want to. How much more money do I need?

YoshiMoshi
YoshiMoshi
Wow, congratulations! I know you didn't get it for money, but was there a positive ROI? Did the feeling of knowing nothing go away after you got it?

I unfortunately don't have as much money as you, and will be probably be working for a few more decades, not by choice though.

Staff Emeritus
but was there a positive ROI?

No idea. Probably not.