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Other Should I pursue a Master's or PhD from BS EE? Perception of this choice?

  • Thread starter smashueatu
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After I finished my EE degree (Major/Cumul GPA: 3.6, mostly A's in math and physics) in December 2015, I began work as a programmer at an electric company for a couple of years. I saved up a good amount of money and established myself to the point where I have the free time to even think about education and where I want to go next.

Some part of me always wanted to pursue higher education in physics due to the amazing experience I had in my physics courses at university, so I am considering going back to pursue an advanced degree. I maintained no relationships with professors after graduation, although I worked with two of them on research.

So, should I pursue a master's first to solve the problem of the knowledge gap and lack of relationships? Or is there a path forward to apply directly for a PhD? Is a master's degree seen as a negative in the physics community, especially when applying for PhD programs? Is my decision to pursue an alternative career path viewed as a negative within the physics community, especially when applying for PhD programs and jobs?

I hold no illusion of obtaining an academic position. I just have a strong interest in the subject and working in it (whatever that means), and I haven't found any good answers to my questions.

Before ZapperZ comments, I am aware of this post: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/can-i-get-a-ph-d-in-physics-if-my-bachelors-degree-isnt-in-physics.64966/

And I am NOT even remotely academically ready for a PhD program or even a master's program. Some refreshing and new learning is needed.
 
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In general, PhD programs prefer undergrads on whom they can impress their course knowledge and methods on. Someone coming from another school with a masters can’t be domesticated in the same way and are harder to deal with. That’s the perception which may in fact hide some ageist beliefs since MS students are a few maybe five or more years older. Also undergrads can be paid less, have less baggage and experience and are less likely to complain about treatment.

Lastly, coming in with an MS may mean you will still have to take some courses to get up to speed in their program and the overall time in school will be longer.

@Orodruin, @Nugatory or @ZapperZ can provide better advice here as my only experience is as a student going to grad school 5 years after getting my BS. My skills were pretty rusty and eventually I had to drop the Physics PhD notion and switch to comp Sci MS where I had more experience.
 
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That’s the perception which may in fact hide some ageist beliefs since MS students are a few maybe five or more years older
Thanks for your reply.

Was this just your personal experience, or did you know many people with this mindset?

And unfortunately, I don't have any ideas for letters of recommendation. I have my old bosses from my previous workplace (non-academic, out of field), but other than them, I don't have any academic contacts remaining. So, I don't know how I would get new relationships without attending somewhere as a non-degree seeker.
 
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What I've said is mostly from personal experience and perception at the time. In my case, because I applied to the PhD program I was being corralled into taking the PhD qualifying exam within a year of being there despite the fact that I was working and taking one course per semester. With rusty skills, there was no way I could pass and they were unwilling to let it slide to a second or third year.

Also, I got the distinct impression that they didn't like me working fulltime as often grad students are accepted into the program and expected to handle the prof's workload of grading papers and so I wasn't in that camp. I guess they felt I wasn't "serious" enough to want a PhD.

The final straw came when I had to travel and couldn't get back in time to process my work tuition refund ie the money I would use for the next course to pay for my next course and so I dropped the program and switch to CS at another school closer to home which was a better less stressful solution.

I've heard from other grad students from time to time and they have experienced similar issues although that doesn't mean it's rampant or even happening now. My brother experienced the issue of an advisor who "forgot" about him and others as he got disinterested in their work and pressed into new fields. The dept chair went after him to graduate his students as he was bringing the department down with transfers out of the program because of it.
 
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I think it's interesting that you are an active contributor on this forum despite your background and experience with physics academia. What keeps you in the community despite that?

Also, I am making an assumption here, but were you a comp sci undergrad? If so, what did the actual path look like to getting admitted, for you personally?
 
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No I was a Physics undergrad many decades ago. My initial goal was to learn about the Unified Field Theory. Our college had a prof that specialized in it but he left when I arrived. I was reluctant to leave my hometown at the time and so became a programmer upon early graduation.

Later, I went back for graduate school for Physics part-time but switched over to CS with the notion of doing computer simulations before those things were popular in industry.
 
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No I was a Physics undergrad many decades ago. My initial goal was to learn about the Unified Field Theory. Our college had a prof that specialized in it but he left when I arrived. I was reluctant to leave my hometown at the time and so became a programmer upon early graduation.

Later, I went back for graduate school for Physics part-time but switched over to CS with the notion of doing computer simulations before those things were popular in industry.
Awesome, thanks again for you sharing your experience :)
 

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