• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products via PF Here!

Job Skills Value of an engineering PhD versus a Masters ->Industry

  • Thread starter Qurks
  • Start date
72
21
I need to decide if I want to continue onto a PhD in Electrical Engineering or exit with my MS. I'm not sure what to do, I think academics is kind of cool and I would like to learn more, on the otherhand I sort of want to start working on Real World projects that have some impact and making an acceptable salary instead of 24k a year.

What are the benefits to a PhD? Besides Academia does only having a Masters degree stop career progression? What is the best economically?
 

PhanthomJay

Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Gold Member
7,078
446
Unless you want to teach at a university , or specialize in a very particular area, or do extensive research, I’d stop at the MS, and perhaps consider some sort of business management degree at night down the road after you are employed a few years. The vast vast majority of engineers that I have come in contact with over the past several decades have either BS or MS degrees, mostly BS, although MS is becoming more important these days. And that will not stop progression in the industry. A PhD degree in some respects could work against you. In the US, you probably could command a starting salary on the order of three times the 24 K figure you quoted, with an MS degree. And don’t forget to get your PE as soon as possible.
 

Choppy

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,495
1,580
Economically I think that the opportunity cost of a PhD is pretty high. When you compare the next 5 years of your life, with a PhD you'll be making probably just enough money to survive. With a master's and presumably a median engineering income, you'll be making enough money to start investing, paying down a mortgage, paying off student loans, etc. After those five years the PhD will tend to command a higher salary, which will compensate for the lost economic opportunity somewhat, but I'm not sure if it completely evens out in the long run. A lot will depend on your specific circumstances.

There are good reasons to pursue a PhD - an interest in science and research, a desire to pursue an academic career, you have your own research ideas that you want to explore, you enjoy the academic lifestyle, etc. But I'm not sure that doing it for the money is one of them.
 
72
21
A potential advisor told me that if I want to do a PhD, it needs to be looked at like a full time job and you have to really want the PhD in of itself. I have heard of other people doing PhDs with lots of extra time but it's not how these guys expect. What's true?

I have thought about what I really want, I really want to work on interesting projects and I want to keep learning, I really want a middle class income, I really want a newer car and a house(and I want some progress on my personal relationships). I want to be able to have continued career progression and ultimately I want to open up a consulting business/independent business in the long run.

I don't know if a PhD will be needed for(or help achieve) the above or not.
 
Last edited:

PhanthomJay

Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Gold Member
7,078
446
I don’t know if a PhD will be needed for(or help achieve) the above or not.
I Repeat: it will not, with the exceptions noted in the prior posts.
 
2,048
505
I agree all the way with PhantomJay. Only for a few narrow employment scenarios is a engineering PhD required.
 

StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
1,628
709
I agree all the way with PhantomJay. Only for a few narrow employment scenarios is a engineering PhD required.
While I agree broadly that an engineering PhD is not necessarily required, much depends on the type of work @Qurks is ultimately interested in. An engineering PhD does open doors to both academia and to certain specialized research-level work that will not be easily available through any other means (this is a characteristic that is similar to a statistics PhD).

I should also note that in my field (statistics), earning a PhD is often considered the equivalent of having 2-3 years of work experience, and this is factored into the hiring decisions when applying for various job positions. I would have thought that engineering, as an applied field, is similar to statistics in this respect.
 
2,048
505
I should also note that in my field (statistics), earning a PhD is often considered the equivalent of having 2-3 years of work experience, and this is factored into the hiring decisions when applying for various job positions. I would have thought that engineering, as an applied field, is similar to statistics in this respect.
I certainly do not think this equivalence applies in any part of engineering that I know about. I think there might be some equivalence between a BS and 3 years experience versus an MS, but a PhD is always expected to go well beyond that point in my own experience.
 

marcusl

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,617
271
At companies I have worked at, a PhD is equivalent to 4 years of work experience for grade and salary.
 
2,048
505
At companies I have worked at, a PhD is equivalent to 4 years of work experience for grade and salary.
I think marcusl may well be correct as far as starting salary and position title is concerned. I do not think this is correct with respect to the career path that it leads to. For most engineers that I have known (which is a lot!), they start off working under someone designate the "project engineer," move on to be come "project engineers" themselves , and at that point move towards a managerial role. For someone who truly wants to do high level technical work, some sort of graduate work is definitely necessary, with a PhD being a much stronger start.

Some years ago, I had a position in which I was the "in-house consultant" and any engineer in the company was allowed to bring me any problem. It was pretty challenging at time, and a whole lot of fun. The point I'd like to make is that the PhD was the only door that would have opened that position for me.
 

jrmichler

Science Advisor
841
743
Some years ago, I had a position in which I was the "in-house consultant" and any engineer in the company was allowed to bring me any problem. It was pretty challenging at time, and a whole lot of fun.
I worked for two different companies where this describes a good part of my job. I could have worked my way into this job with a BS degree, but would have spent quite a few years working my up the technical ladder from a job drawing parts. The PhD made it possible to do the job than I would have done with a lesser degree.
 

cjl

Science Advisor
1,707
327
For someone who truly wants to do high level technical work, some sort of graduate work is definitely necessary, with a PhD being a much stronger start.
That's interesting, because that isn't even remotely the case in my experience. At the companies I've worked at, a masters or PhD has been viewed as a nice-to-have, and it certainly accelerates the initial part of the career, but the true technical subject-matter experts are pretty much all determined by their level of ability, knowledge, and experience in their field, and I know just as many of them with bachelors degrees as with graduate work. They all have to be exceptional, and usually would have extensive experience, patents, deep knowledge, etc, but it doesn't matter at all if a particular piece of knowledge was gained through grad school or through experience.

I'm not saying this is the case in all fields, or dismissing your experience, just saying that it is surprising to me to hear you say that compared to what I've seen.
 

berkeman

Mentor
55,527
5,633
I need to decide if I want to continue onto a PhD in Electrical Engineering or exit with my MS.
What is your current specialty in EE? What specialties do you think you would pursue in your PhD work?
you have your own research ideas that you want to explore
I think this is a key point. If you have strong interests in certain areas of research, especially those that can have commercial application in a reasonable timeframe, then it may make sense to purse the PhD with the intention of bringing some of those technology innovations to market.

For example, at the company I now work for, the CEO and most of the VPs have PhDs in EE or Physics. They founded a semiconductor-based startup company several years ago, based on some of the research that they had been doing, and several patents that they had filed. If you have interests in technologies that can be commercialized in the timeframe of finishing your PhD, that would help you in your networking to start a company or join a small company that wanted to do that commercialization.
 

marcusl

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,617
271
That's interesting, because that isn't even remotely the case in my experience. At the companies I've worked at, a masters or PhD has been viewed as a nice-to-have, and it certainly accelerates the initial part of the career, but the true technical subject-matter experts are pretty much all determined by their level of ability, knowledge, and experience in their field, and I know just as many of them with bachelors degrees as with graduate work. They all have to be exceptional, and usually would have extensive experience, patents, deep knowledge, etc, but it doesn't matter at all if a particular piece of knowledge was gained through grad school or through experience.

I'm not saying this is the case in all fields, or dismissing your experience, just saying that it is surprising to me to hear you say that compared to what I've seen.
This is my experience as well, at least in engineering. Only about 1/3 of our tech fellows have doctorates. This would not necessarily be true in companies or areas of companies that focus on physics, applied physics, etc. but in engineering it depends on a person's knowledge, experience, insight and track record of accomplishments.
 
72
21
What is your current specialty in EE? What specialties do you think you would pursue in your PhD work?

I think this is a key point. If you have strong interests in certain areas of research, especially those that can have commercial application in a reasonable timeframe, then it may make sense to purse the PhD with the intention of bringing some of those technology innovations to market.

For example, at the company I now work for, the CEO and most of the VPs have PhDs in EE or Physics. They founded a semiconductor-based startup company several years ago, based on some of the research that they had been doing, and several patents that they had filed. If you have interests in technologies that can be commercialized in the timeframe of finishing your PhD, that would help you in your networking to start a company or join a small company that wanted to do that commercialization.
Signal Processing/Machine Learning. I would pursue the same thing at the PhD level. I'm honestly, not really sure. I do know the PhD wouldn't be focused on a commercial product, it would be more theoretical/foundational, not really application based.

Is it better to spend 4 years on something theortical versus working on a practical application right now?
 

Want to reply to this thread?

"Value of an engineering PhD versus a Masters ->Industry" You must log in or register to reply here.

Related Threads for: Value of an engineering PhD versus a Masters ->Industry

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving
Top