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Engineering Wondering which Engineering PhD would be best suited for industrial work.

  1. Sep 20, 2012 #1
    Hello forum. I recently graduated with a masters in nuclear engineering and have been trying to apply to jobs with no success. I am starting to wonder if I should go back to school for an engineering/STEM Phd, and if I do, which industries are really hiring? Now I completely understand that the job market may be completely different in 3-4 years, but what are some major trends going on right now that suggest certain fields will be needed in the future? Also considering the fact that I am in my early 30's and want to start a family soon, the most economically viable solution(which would somewhat also support my interests) is the one I'm searching for. Any HONEST advice would be greatly appreciated, thank you.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2012 #2
    Hint: Exelon has the largest nuclear power plant plant fleet in the US. Throw your resume at them and be prepared for an onslaught of very interested HR people.

    Seriously, there is far too much gray hair in the nuclear business and there are very few who really understand this stuff well. You will have one hell of a learning curve, but I can just about guarantee that you won't be hurting for money --if you can stand the bureaucracy.

    Just so you know, I started a family later in life. I made a personal decision not to have any more children past the age of forty. My reasoning has to do with my ability to pay for retirement and for their education. I'll probably be working well in to my 70s even as it is. Keep that notion in the back of your mind...
  4. Sep 20, 2012 #3
    "...are very few who really understand this stuff well."

    Just curious, can you be more specific, and what is the root of this problem?
  5. Sep 21, 2012 #4
    I'm probably going to offend some people when I say this.

    Engineering is often done by habit. We've always done things this way, and we know how it works, and unless you can show performance that we simply can't get any other way, we'll keep doing things this way. This is why the rail road steam engines lasted as long as they did.

    Regulations get written around these notions. For example, in the 1930s and 1940s, the hottest sparks that were easily available came from magnetos. So they built aircraft engines with them. These magnetos weren't particularly reliable, so they put two plugs in each cylinder and the law mandated two separate ignition systems be available in every aircraft engine. That's still how it is done today in most certified aircraft engine designs, even though we have electronic ignition systems that are offer significantly better performance than a magneto with fixed timing.

    In the nuclear industry, there was rapid growth right up to the early 1970's when Three Mile Island nearly melted down. We had a series of things that we knew worked. Modern safety designs were just getting started back then. TMI had many control system problems and they dealt with them poorly.

    Those older nuke plant designs were basically set in stone and the industry went in to a tail spin. Today, we have very few people who remember how decisions for design on these plants got made and for what reasons. It's not that we do not understand the technologies. It's that the choices that may have been made for less than ideal reasons are fading from memory. People do not remember why things were done the way they got done. So they worship the design and this is enshrined in regulation upon regulation upon regulation. People are deathly afraid to tinker.

    Yet that is the only way out of this morass. Thus, we have research reactors that do very small scale stuff, but no larger scale reactors that might consume Thorium fuel, for example.

    The nuclear engineers of today are basically caretakers. They maintain these old beasts but rarely change how things are done because almost nobody has a living memory of how things were designed and for what reasons, and even those who do know are not allowed to touch a damned thing. Getting anything done at all involves meeting after meeting after meeting and documentation up the wazoo.

    At some point, we need to get past the caretaker stage and get back to actual maintenance and engineering. That is what I hope this generation of nuclear engineers will do.
  6. Sep 21, 2012 #5
    I concur with Jake on a few things he says. Early in my career I did a short stint with a utility in the Carolinas who was designing & building their nuke plants. GoodGawdAwmighty was a miserable boring paperwork nightmare that was...due to restrictions put on by reaction to TMI. Lots of internal pain, politics, maneuvering, and silliness that just doesn't suit my personality at all. But I have friends there who are going on 35+ years and will be (urk!) retiring with full pensions and all that stuff. One guy in particular I know has been pushing stacks of paper around for that entire time. That would make my head explode.

    If you are fully dedicated to NukeEngrg, then there are places out there that need you. Just look for who uses reactors: utilities, military, ...ummm...ummm...commercial contractors to military, ...ummm...maybe some Government labs...ummm...maybe consider a stretch and look into medical (they need isotope knowledgeable folks I suppose).

    That Ph.D. decision must be yours, but don't expect it to get you a job. It will put you into a very narrow specialty. If you want to get extra coursework to make yourself more marketable, then target your market and find out what courses would be beneficial to backfill your education. The rule of thumb: companies will hire many BS-level problem solvers before they'll hire Doctorates.
  7. Sep 21, 2012 #6
    Thanks everyone as I really appreciate your input on the matter. However, I have no desire to work in a power plant operating the reactor. I would rather design a reactor and actually have a few ideas for a new, safer type of machine. However, I feel I will need to go back to school to really study these ideas or make myself more marketable albeit be more specialized. My next question I suppose is which has more potential, material science phD or nuclear materials phD?
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