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What would you have done differently?

  1. Mar 27, 2014 #1
    Do you have any career/academic advice for young engineers and/or physicists?

    Completely open ended question (moderators: feel free to remove if too open ended)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2014 #2
    Make sure you foster real, marketable skills before seeking employment. You wont get many of these in classes so look elsewhere for a means to develop real skills before graduation.
  4. Mar 27, 2014 #3
    Internships. do them.
  5. Mar 27, 2014 #4
    This is great advice, and I would add that doing undergraduate research is no substitute for a real internship. If you are dead set on being a professional scientist and are going to go for a PhD then you should opt to do research rather than intern. Otherwise research is a poor substitute for the real job training you can get in an internship.
  6. Mar 27, 2014 #5
    Develop and maintain a network, this may not come naturally to you if you tend to be introverted.
  7. Mar 27, 2014 #6
    Don't shortchange the non-major electives. Put some serious effort into music, art or art history, literature, etc. IMO, too many STEM students view these subjects as time-wasters and therefore end up wasting their time in such classes. If nothing else, these subjects help you learn to express yourself in writing and possibly orally. Ideally, they help you be a more interesting person to be around.
  8. Mar 27, 2014 #7


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    I would have studied some kind of engineering because physics does not prepare you for a vocation. The hiring market is far, far friendlier to engineers.

    Here's one thing I would not do differently: When I was in college, I hated that I had to work so much, and could only afford to take one or two classes at a time. Turns out this was critical in getting a job - all that work experience gave me a huge head start.
  9. Mar 27, 2014 #8


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    Good post :smile:. It's sad when STEM people look down on other subjects. It's a big, big world out there, and you will need lots of tools in your tool box to build a good life!
  10. Mar 27, 2014 #9


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    I don't know how to answer the question. On the one hand, the start of my career took the "scenic route" through several digressions till more of less by accident I arrived where the work (and the other workers) grabbed my attention. But on the other hand, in the long term a lot of things (and people) that crossed my path before I reach that point, turned out to be very useful.

    So, I could have reached the point I was at say 15 year into my career after 5 years. But if that had happened, I might never have reached where I am currently.

    So I guess my answer is, it's a hypothetical question - just get on with your life and don't worry about it.
  11. Mar 28, 2014 #10
    To limit the scope a bit, what are the regrets and opportunity costs of your chosen field of expertise (e.g. lack of mobility, shrinking industry, etc.) and what steps might you have taken or will take to better reposition yourself?

    Thanks for all of the responses thus far
  12. Mar 28, 2014 #11
    I'm at the point now where I would have skipped science all together. I've been through 2 jobs (both from which I was laid off), low paying permatemp gigs, and now am stuck in grad school in a lab getting rocked by funding cuts. It's like a never ending cycle of job loss, decreasing pay, and increasingly grim prospects. If I am forced to move to another lab and start all over again I'm quitting that day, opening up the books, and studying for actuary exams or applying to entry level finance jobs, even though I wasted 10 years since graduation trying to develop a career.
  13. Mar 28, 2014 #12
    I’d imagine a fairly conservative estimate for the opportunity costs of grad school would be say 40K-50K per year in lost earnings doing something that didn’t provide skills that have been useful in my career (I did pen and paper theory).

    The problem with a question like this is, the opportunity costs depend on what opportunities were bypassed, and this depends a lot a person’s individual preferences. If engineering had appealed to me, I would certainly regret not doing that as an undergrad. Similarly, if an area of physics with more industrial applications had appealed to me (I did try to convince myself to do something like that but couldn’t) I’d probably regret not doing that in grad school. I just wasn’t that motivated to do either of these and I really wanted to learn high energy theory.
  14. Mar 28, 2014 #13

    There is a huuuuuuge difference between looking down on a *class* and looking down on a subject, doncha know.
  15. Mar 28, 2014 #14
    I don't think these classes will make someone more interesting. One should go out and develop hobbies and meet non-science people. A class is no substitute for experience.
  16. Mar 28, 2014 #15


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    Taking a (mandatory) class is the only way many people will be exposed to topics such as woodworking, Chinese, public speaking, or badminton. My point is, life will try to "specialize" you - fit you into a little box. But sometimes that box disappears due to layoffs, restructuring, or bankruptcy. At times like that you will need to have experience outside of that comfy box you've been in. Having exposure to subjects outside your comfort zone can only help you.

    Back on topic - one problem with the OP's question is, you can't know what mistakes you're making until you after you make them. The career I chose depended heavily on residential construction. Twenty years ago, it was a great choice. I could not have known there was going to be a devastating recession that carved an enormous hole in the middle of my career.

    So, OP, I hope you realize: knowing the mistakes others have made can't protect you from making your own fresh, original mistakes :smile:!
  17. Mar 28, 2014 #16
    Thats a conservative estimate? You must be a real outlier because most graduates with a BS (or even an MS) do not make 40-50k more than their graduate school counterparts. Or am I missing something here?
  18. Mar 29, 2014 #17
    It could be me that's missing something, I'll outline what I was thinking.

    I was comparing the difference in wages from grad school to mid career wages, not what you'd make first entering the workforce. I also assumed that the graduate degree did not lead to higher initial wages, most likely this is true for me, not sure how general this is, it probably depends a lot on the area of specialization. I was thinking about the long term cost.

    For example, suppose grad school takes 5 years, once you get a job (w/BS or MS or PhD) you spend 2 years with medium/low wages before you start making good money and your wages peak after 10 years experience. So 15+ years after getting their BS degrees the grad school and non-grad school people make the same amount of money per year, they both spent the same amount of time working their way up the ladder at their jobs, the difference is the non-grad school person started making the peak wages 5 years earlier and the grad school person had an extra 5 years of grad school TA/RA money.
  19. Mar 29, 2014 #18
    A chart showing how much of a difference starting to save for your retirement at your 20's to 30's would be useful because it shows how opportunity costs compound.
  20. Mar 29, 2014 #19
    An example I've been thinking about lately is the inability to get my kids involved with my work or to ultimately pass "the business" off to them.

    We can talk about that but I'm also interested in learning about other non-monetary opportunity costs that others might be wrestling with.
  21. Mar 29, 2014 #20
    Yeah jkl71 ,as jesse73 suggests you should redo your calculations but discount the cashflows to find the net present value at some point in time.

    The opportunity costs are really much larger than most of us realized when we were young.
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