18 responses to “Grad School, is it worth it?”

  1. Helena

    Whoa! This post was amazing. Thank you so much for all of this information. Yes, I am planning to major in ME, I guess reading MIT FML has gotten me worried about job prospects after graduation or for internships, but I’m not planning to enter the workforce sincerely until at least after grad school. I feel like I’m going to be in school for a looooong time…

  2. gasstationwithoutpumps

    From a purely financial perspective (life-time income) the MS the optimal degree for a working engineer. A PhD starts with a higher salary after a delay, but tends not to go much higher (a full professor with 30 years experience doesn’t make much more than a newly hired assistant professor, unless they have gotten super-star status or played all sorts of salary-manipulation games).

    Industry is much more willing to hire MS than PhD students, because the companies are mostly not interested in research, only in development. There are a few exceptions, of course, but a PhD is a ticket into research not into $.

    One major exception is teaching positions at a university, where a PhD will get you a much higher status and better paid job than an MS will, though nowhere near the pay an MS commands in industry.

    My suggestion to students:
    1) if you love money, get the BS degree and a finance degree and go wreck the world economy.
    2) if you love hands-on engineering, get an MS degree.
    3) if you are tired of school, get the BS degree, work for a couple of years, then come back for an MS degree.
    4) if you love thinking about weird things, and don’t need to get rich or have spare time, get a PhD and go into academic research.

  3. GMP

    Microelectronic industry hires a lot of PhD’s. Starting salaries are easily around a $90-100K, and not necessarily for a research position. A grad school friend of mine had a few years postdoc and just recently started with a company at somewhere between $105-110 K. I think Gears gave pretty good ranges for salaries in the post.

    Middle-of-the-road quality full EE profs make around $130-150K (I am at a flagship state school). Superstar senior faculty make $200K+: my 65 year old collaborator who’s an NAE member makes about $250K; I have no idea how much money his various startups bring on top of that, but he’s definitely not poor.

    But I do agree with gasstationwithoutpumps that PhD should probably not be undertaken for the money alone: PhD is a research degree and training lasts a fair amount of time and is really open-ended. It’s too painful and long to undertake if you really hate doing research or thinking about weird problems in general. :)
    An MS is a good option for people who don’t like research, but are smart and capable and want to work for a solid pay.

  4. Ben

    I am a recent graduate of a small engineering school where around 50% of the engineering students go onto graduate school (and a sizeable portion of them heading straight into a PhD program). I did well in school and assumed I would be headed for a PhD after a few years in industry.

    In addition to the peer pressure, a large part of the appeal of the PhD was what GEARS mentioned– I assumed I would be able to ensure that I always got to work on what I thought were interesting problems. The base pay and simultaneous consulting options didn’t hurt either!

    Being out in the real world for the last year has let me see entrepreneurs, small business owners, and consultants who get a lot of the freedom to choose their work without a PhD. Although they may have to work harder to achieve equivalent pay, they still get the freedom to work on what they deem “interesting” without a doctorate. It seems like this freedom mainly comes from being your own boss. In a university or a large company a PhD may boost you to the top of the ladder and give you certain freedoms, but ultimately you’re still working for someone else.

    These days, it’s actually my desire to teach that has me considering the PhD more than anything else. That and spending 5-7 years getting paid to spend someone else’s money building cool projects that I would try to build anyway. If it weren’t for all the other stuff (grant applications, papers, grading, committees, etc) it would be a done deal.

    1. Miss MSE

      I have to agree with the appeal of teaching as a motivator for the PhD. Certainly, I could have taught high school, but the things I’m most passionate about don’t fit into a typical high school curriculum. Of course, we’ll see if I still think grad school was worth it when I’m done…

  5. Jed Sutherland

    I graduated from university in 1978 (BEng). A few years in the workforce and I went to uni to get a MEng in robotics control. Very painful, but that might have more to do with the prof I was working under.

    When I got out, I ended up in manufacturing, but the robotics work never really materialized. In a way, I was a big too far ahead of the curve.

    The mfg work eventually got me into running a mfg line with a high tech company…the salary was crap, but they handed out lots of stock options. I made enough from the stock to retire. Now I focus on music and singing.

    Some things I’ve learned:
    You never know where your decisions will take you.
    I ran out of interest in engineering in the first 10 years…some of the jobs were boring (depending on the market, you need to take what you can git as far as industry or salary) and I resigned myself to 20-30 more years of that. I didn’t want to work in mfg, but surprisingly, I eventually made enough money to do something more interesting.

    You will never have enough info to make the “right” decision.
    There is at least 50% probability of making a decision which will prove to be unwise in retrospect.

    Universities don’t prepare you well for engineering in the real world.
    It takes at least 5 years for you to develop some of the skills you really need once you’re working as an engineer.

    Therefore, the decision to move on to an MS or Phd should be based on more than just the potential money.
    A doctorate was described by a professor friend of mine as being, “an intense personal journey” … you must ask yourself whether this is a journey you want to take.

    Your extra qualifications may not mean as much as you think.
    Once I graduated with my MEng, the job I got paid less money than my BEng job. It took me awhile to work my way back up the totem pole. And yes, some of the Phds worked on research, but it didn’t necessarily relate to what it was they really wanted to research.

    Sorry for the long post. Nice blog, by the way.

  6. Weekend Journal: Recruiting at a Top Tier Engineering School | Engineer Blogs

    […] opportunity, is what truly separates the top schools from the ones below them. And not just post grad work. Sometimes it relates to the professors you’ll be allowed to work with over the summer in a […]

  7. Sid

    I think PhD in any fields should be pay little more and respect, but in society they aren’t recognized much, for sure in the U.S. For this reason, they have low pay and the rest Gone to Medical School that potentially makes more money, job security, and respect, even the easiest specialty FP/GP makes more than a starting PhD.

  8. LordoftheCrabPeople

    I am looking at going to OSU (Oregon) to get a MEng degree because I’m tired of my chosen profession. I am a nuclear QC inspector and I gross over $120k/yr working about 7 months. My true passion lies in solving problems and building stuff. The info in this post and the comments are rather interesting. Education should never be about money, it should be about PASSION.

    1. just_created

      @ Lordof theCrabPeople
      I am a recent from the program you mentioned.
      I would not recommend quitting your job for it. The research here is not cutting edge, and the graduate catalog in N.E. is simply senior level (B.S.) N.E. classes rehashed.

      If you are only looking for the piece of paper, though. Then I would highly recommend the coursework only Meng degree.