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Engineering Questions Regarding Engineering PhDs

  1. Dec 26, 2012 #1
    Good evening everyone, I have questions regarding PhDs in the ENGINEERING field. For reference I have my BS in Aeronautical Engineering.

    1) Is earning a PhD with the intent of going into industry research and not teaching wise?

    2) Do the majority PhDs who enter the workforce acquire jobs which require an advanced degree and do research similar to their thesis?

    3) I have heard from an acquaintance in engineering that 5 years experience in industry is more valuable (from a professional standpoint) than 5 years spent on a doctorate degree. Is this true?

    Remember that these questions only pertain to the engineering sector.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 26, 2012 #2
    1) Yes - a lot of industry research positions require or strongly favour PhDs

    2) I'm honestly not sure, you'd have to look up the statistics yourself

    3) Absolutely if you want a standard engineering role, like what the vast majority in industry are, where PhDs are largely irrelevant. Not so much if you want a research role.
  4. Dec 26, 2012 #3
    I don't have PhD but have worked with a handful of them in the aerospace industry. Here is what I have seen:

    1.) Some research or even advanced development roles are going to require or really help if you have a PhD. For example I know a someone who worked developing autopilot systems. Certain roles on a project such as that are going to strongly favor PhDs.

    2.) I would say many acquire jobs which require advanced degrees. A good portion of the jobs aren't always going to be doing research... this is engineering after all. PhDs will be relied upon for a lot of modeling and simulation roles, design analysis, etc. The chances of getting a research job that is similar to your thesis is even smaller. If that is something you would like to do then I would suggest finding a thesis topic very relevant to industry.

    3.) No. In most cases I would say years experience or more valuable than a Master's degree, but the required PhD level positions I have seen are that way because they require academic knowledge (advanced control theory, math like PDEs) and not the stuff you don't learn in school.
  5. Dec 26, 2012 #4
    Thank you for the responses, they were very helpful. Now I have some more relevant questions:

    1) Many companies offer the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree while working for their company. From questions I have asked recruiters directly, often they will support a Masters (thesis or non) but not a PhD. Is a company supported PhD only done under extenuating circumstances?

    2) Is it possible for an advanced degree to pigeon-hole you as many people say in the sense that it one, will limit your job prospects, two, will deter recruiters from hiring you?
  6. Dec 26, 2012 #5


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    Since the academic content of the PhD is (by definition) controlled by the university not the company, it wouldn't make much sense for a company to "hire" somebody to work full time for several years with no direct control over what they were doing, and with no guaratee that the PhD project would be sucessfully completed. Even if it was completed the content might have shifted away from what the company is really interested in. And the PhD thesis is in the public domain, which might conflict with the company's intellectual property issues.

    In the UK, a company may be funding a (commercially confidential) research project at a universiity, which includes a PhD thesis (or several) as a part of the overall project. It's the university's decision who to "employ" on the project, not the company's. Of course by the end of the project the PhD students and post docs will probably have a good idea if they want to work for the company, and the company will have a good idea if it wants to offer them a job, but nothing is guaranteed up front.

    I don't know if the US system is similar.
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