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Why didn't you do a more lucrative or easier career?

  1. Sep 5, 2013 #1
    In order to understand engineering concepts one must have a high IQ. In order to understand the concepts behind engineering, one must also put in hundreds of hours of studying in undergrad or grad-school. Yet, all that work doesn’t seem to have a very high pay-off. From what I understand, most engineers level off somewhere between $80-$100k.

    If you’re smart enough to become an engineer, couldn’t you have become an actuary or gone to med/dental/law school and made more money. Heck, you probably could have made more money just becoming a nurse practitioner or CRNA. I’m sure the average engineer could have made it into nursing school- the demands of which are undoubtedly less than those of engineering courses.

    So, why were you masochistic enough to do engineering?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2013 #2


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    First of all, if you enjoy it, it isn't work. I enjoyed doing engineering, but I would have hated being an actuary or a nurse practitioner. Second of all, talented engineers can make way more than 80-100K. Take a look at this article, for example.
  4. Sep 6, 2013 #3


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    You are falsely listing the ceiling and falsely comparing jobs with different levels of education. Your top end ($100,000) is actually the average, with the median only slightly lower: https://www.asme.org/career-educati...ngineers/engineering-salary-survey-your-value

    Since that isn't adjusted for experience (inexperienced should expect to make less, experienced more), even a mediocre engineer with a lot of experience should expect to clear $100k.

    And surprisingly, that's above the median/mean salary for a nurse practicioner or PA, despite them having higher education requirements: http://nurse-practitioners-and-physician-assistants.advanceweb.com/Web-Extras/Online-Extras/The-2012-National-Salary-Survey-of-NPs-PAs.aspx [Broken]

    However, due to the high growth rates in those fields, they may be skewed by having more people on the low end.

    My perception of the PA/NP field, doctors and lawyers is that their education is very inefficient. If your education in your field doesn't start until after you get an undergrad degree in virtually anything, then the undergrad degree doesn't seem to serve any purpose but to prove you are smart enough to get into the field.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Sep 6, 2013 #4


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    Russ must have been mugged by one of those guys who suffered an inefficient education, whatever that is.

    Anywho, most people don't chose a field because they are looking for the highest pay, otherwise everyone would be a doctor or a lawyer, and civilization would rapidly and completely collapse. A lot of people who could otherwise master the course may not want to spend their day digging into someone's guts or rooting around in someone's mouth. Not everyone who is comfortable with numbers wants to go around determining the odds on something happening, like an actuary.
  6. Sep 6, 2013 #5


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    Steamking has already addressed the flawed assumption that most people go into such careers for money but I just want to add something to address this quote; being smart does not make you universally good, you have to be interested in what you do.
  7. Sep 6, 2013 #6
    First off, 80-100k is the ceiling for average engineers. The best of the best make way more than that in engineering and most other professional fields. I know for a fact that the best EEs at a large defense contractor make ~200k and gets a ~30k-80k bonus on top of that (takes like 30 years to get to that point). Your whole life is a normal distribution.

    It sounds cliche, but money isn't everything, and coming from me that means something because I'm extremely money hungry. As an example, I'm currently getting a second BS in ME and working for a small medical supply company on the weekends. I have the opportunity to expand this small business to the NOVA area, and I would probably make 300k+ in about 3 to 5 years (very rough estimate). But, I just can't do it, I love the technical fields too much and I need the mental stimulation that I can't get anywhere else.
  8. Sep 6, 2013 #7
    A little background may be helpful.

    Here is a list of threads Unicorn-Demon started on an actuarial forum I read:

    • How many years does it take, on average, to pass all the exams?
    • Why didn't you do a more lucrative/easier career?
    • Do actuaries work a standard 9-5, 40 hour work week?
    • What's the highest salary you've heard of an actuary making?
    • How smart must you be to work as an actuary?
    • Why did you decide to become an actuary?
    • How bad is the market for entry-level positions?
    • Considering switching from accounting to an acturial career, need some input
    Maybe we could just go ahead and address them all in one thread, instead of starting eight this time?

    I find it a bit amusing that after asking actuaries why they didn’t do a more lucrative career, Unicorn-Demon used actuaries as a “more lucrative” career here.
  9. Sep 6, 2013 #8
    A lot of people who study engineering do end up going into things like accounting, consultancy, management, finance etc.

    But a lot of people who study engineering actually want to become engineers.

    And you're also not taking into account the differences in hours worked between different professions either.
  10. Sep 6, 2013 #9
    Locrian, nice snappage.
  11. Sep 6, 2013 #10


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    Where would the fun be if we didn't have any hurdles to climb?
  12. Sep 6, 2013 #11
    Damn, that is considered low pay? Or at least not great pay? Crazy, this place (physicsforums) is like bizzaro land. The expectations and career opportunities people tout in these forums are generally far higher than any I have seen among my peers (fellow grads).

    Personally, I would be ecstatic to make half of that with my degrees in physics. I'm going to be going back to school for engineering and after graduation I would be happy to make half of that figure (40k-50k).

    Most people who get engineering degrees dont become engineers though, do they?
  13. Sep 6, 2013 #12


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    Only the good ones.
  14. Sep 6, 2013 #13

    D H

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    Crazy, isn't it?

    Here's the right way to look at it:


    No matter how you cut it, $80-100K/year is a very, very nice place to be. And that is not where engineers top out. That's what the average engineer makes after working for a decade or two.
  15. Sep 6, 2013 #14
    You know, I could have been a pimp. I'd have lots of cool stories to tell. I'd meet interesting women, and clients. I'd be able to drive around in a nice car, and I'd be really popular. The money ain't bad either.

    But I chose to be an engineer instead. I prefer an honest living. I like sleeping soundly after a job is finished. I like being in a respectable profession where my skills would be in demand. Just because you read about these business administration and MBA students who do fabulously well for what seems like no work does not mean that every one of those graduates does this well. In fact, I'll bet that on average engineers do better.

    I even figured out that if I worked the same crazy schedule as my general practitioner doctor, that I'd make nearly as much per hour as he does.

    Engineering is not a bad bet. You rarely have a need to medicate your conscience with alcohol. I recommend it to those smart kids who still love to build castles in the sand, crazy structures with blocks, build lego robots, and so on. The toys get bigger, more sophisticated and powerful, and much more expensive; but gosh, we're all still kids and having a blast!
  16. Sep 7, 2013 #15


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    Or, you could bag all that, step outside of the mainstream, and become an A-C-T-U-A-R-Y.

    It would be like becoming a superhero. Nobody would understand what you do, and they would probably move away from you at a party if you told them what you do. Most people would think you worked in a

    It reminds me of a poster I saw many years ago. There is this nice looking girl wearing a bikini, running along a beach. The caption on the poster was about how crazy she was for her boyfriend because he knew

    Here ... dug it up: http://avconline.avc.edu/jdisbrow/whymath.html
  17. Sep 7, 2013 #16
    Where did people get the idea that finance/being an actuary was less demanding than engineering?
  18. Sep 13, 2013 #17
    My story is simple.

    I basically had no idea what to do when I started studying physics/engineering. I just liked it. And now with a top 5% PhD degree from a world top 20 uni I am basically left unemployable (aside from minimum wage labour or postdocs) until I get a set of skills unrelated to what I have been doing so far. My own fault for not anticipating academic funding cuts / oversupply of PhDs / outsourcing R&D to China.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2013
  19. Sep 13, 2013 #18

    If you don't mind sharing, what was your area of study?
  20. Sep 13, 2013 #19


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    I'm sorry to hear that. I have a Ph.D. from a world top 50 university and I've done well. What are your skills? What did you study? How long ago did you graduate? Where have you looked for work?

    You know, Asia is outsourcing some R&D to the USA as well.


  21. Sep 15, 2013 #20
    Quantum optics. It just didn't catch up as I anticipated. When I started studying it, quantum optical industry was establishing itself and growing. A few years later the industry growth halted, while fundamental research funding shifted to different areas. In addition to that there appeared to be tremendous oversupply of PhDs trained in quantum optics. A lot of what I know is highly specialised, and if I were to switch to photonics or programming, I would not be an attractive candidate. So I guess I have to develop a range of better marketable skills while being on a postdoc and then try to switch :)
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2013
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