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Planning to work in the Semiconductor Industry

  1. Aug 4, 2011 #1


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    Greetings everyone.

    A little about my situation:

    I'm a 3rd year student studying in New Zealand, specialising in a 4-year undergrade program on optoelectronics, basically a mixture of computer systems engineering, electrical engineering, physics papers on optics and electronics.
    On my next and final year I will be doing a project supported by a local industry which will account for 3/8 of the total grade points of my final year. Other 4th year papers will be:
    1 electrical engineering paper on communication systems (analog and digital modulations, waveform coding, data compression, information theory etc)
    2 physics papers on lasers and optoelectronics
    1 management paper
    and then I have to choose one of the 3 following papers: quantum physics, electromagnetism, digital communications
    my instincts tell me I will find quantum physics more enjoyable
    After my 4th year, if the weighted average of my 3rd and 4th year grades are higher than B- I will be awarded with an Honour's degree

    I am thinking about going to US for my master's degree and then getting a job in the semiconductor or computer hardware industry. I have a few questions, and possibly some misconceptions I need to clear up:

    1) I read that in US, there are two types of master's degree, research and professional, at this stage academic research really doesn't look appealing to me, does that mean a professional master's degree will be what I should be looking at?

    2) My parents say it will be difficult to find scholarship or other types of funding if I'm not planning on doing PhD as well as Masters, is this true in my case?

    3) On the subject of PhD's, in terms of probability of finding a job in the industry, will having a master's degree be sufficient? or will it be a good idea to have a phd degree after all?

    4) My parents also tell me it is easer to switch from an academic career to an industrial career, but not the other way round, so the safest bet is to start with an academic career. But in my university a lot of my lecturers (especially in engineering courses) talk about their experiences in companies.

    5) Is there a lot of applications of optoelectronics/photonics in the semiconductor industry? I think I read somewhere that photonics are used in some wafer manufacturing process.

    6) Silicon Valley looks life a nice place to have a job in, but I would like to know some first hand knowledge of people working in companies in the silicon valley (I do realize this is probably a pointless question, work environment vary a lot from company to company)

    7) I read some other PF threads, it looked like an academic career primarily involve locking oneself inside their offices working to see their discovering published, look at the post graduate students i know of it does seem to be that way. While there is nothing wrong with working all day on subjects we have special interests in, my ideal job would have lots of team work and a healthy social network.

    I apologize for this giant wall of text, I thought I should probably ask when I have a clue on the project I will be doing next year, but I just felt like I need to get these questions off my head.

    Any input will be appreciated :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2011 #2
    I haven’t heard those terms used; I just hear thesis and non-thesis. Rules for graduating with each will vary. As for which you do, IMHO if you’re not going for a PhD, a thesis might not be a bad idea, just to show you’ve spent some time in a lab. An internship or something similar might be just as good or better.

    I think the chance of getting a TA (teaching assistantship) or RA (research assistantship) is quite good, which would pay for your school and give you a little (very little!) to live on. One option is to just sign up for the PhD program. The chances of TA/RA are even better and you have the option to do a PhD if you decide. You can always bail with a masters.

    This is hard to say. My decision was that the Masters was best for me, but I changed careers on a whim and so we’ll never know how it was going to work out. However I based this decision on work experience in industry I had between my BS and MS, so I feel I have some knowledge on the subject.

    I’m more business oriented so I felt the extra years in industry were better for me than extra years at a university. Also, I already had lots of lab experience on my resume. However, lots of my fellow students who went on to get PhD’s are now gainfully employed in industry. It’s a tough call, and another reason you should consider getting into a PhD program and just keeping the option to bail with a MS in your back pocket.

    My experience is that Universities are happy to hire anyone who will make bank. I know of plenty of people who brought lucrative research contracts from industry to university and had no problems being hired. On the other hand, if you don’t have anything to put on the table, your time in industry will not help you.

    Good luck in your endeavors. Honestly, getting your degree without paying for it is your first major step. It’s one of the few great advantages of the physics graduate degree and if you’re young it’s hard to imagine an MS won’t have been worth it. Two years in a new country on someone else’s dime would make this worth it to me – wish I had done that!

    Update us on how it goes.
  4. Aug 14, 2011 #3


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    Thank you Locrian, your info gave me something to think about.

    I have also been reading other posts in this forum and the academic guidance forum, it looked like particular universities have strengths in different subfields of physics and engineering and typical "University Rankings" don't reflect that.
    It also seems that most of these people who put up those ranking aren't even familiar with the field of physics and enginnering.

    So far in the program i have learned:
    -Electronics and Electrical Engineering
    -Classical Optics and Laser Physics

    and dabbled in:
    - Condensed matter physics
    - Quantum physics
    - Computer science and computer systems enginnering

    I have a feeling at some point I am going to have to specialise in one of these fields in grad school. For each of the fields I listed above I find them all interesting and the difficulties are about equal so personal preference isn't helping me much on making this decision.

    This leads to the two more questions i have:

    8) I do want to make myself as versatile as possible. Electrical engineering looks like the most broadly used discipline, but in this programme I do not actually gain an engineering degree (doesn't put me into any engineers association), so I would imagine entering a grad school to study EE may be a bit difficult, should I focus on the physics side of electronics then? or would it be more useful to focus on one of the other fields I have listed above to prepare me to find a job in the semiconductor industry?

    9) In terms of making my CV better looking for a potential employer, which university in the states should I be aiming for? or does it not matter?

    The reason I'm planning on finding a job in the semiconductor industry is that
    - I would love to be involved in the development of all technology around us
    - The urge to keep on developing superior, more efficient products every year or every few months sounds like a good challenge (although it probably means i won't age well...)
    - Money, I can confidently say typical 18~21 year olds do not spend nearly as much time as I do in managing my saving and investments
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