Planning Beyond Graduation

Planning Beyond Graduation

This semester, I’m working with an undergraduate on research, and we’ve had some interesting discussions about preparing for the academic track instead of an industrial path. My graduate institution is a very research-oriented school, and encourages¬†students to follow the academic path. Undergraduate courses are very theoretical, and their senior capstone experience is a small research project. Most students are expected to participate in a research project at some point besides the capstone project. My undergraduate instution was almost exactly the opposite, expecting the majority of students to find jobs in industry after graduation. Students are encouraged to take internships, and the senior capstone project is done as an industrial partnership.

Materials science and engineering, courtesy of the “and”, tends to have a much larger research component than other engineering fields, so it’s not so absurd for a department to expect most of their students to go to grad school. However, many students don’t consider what they plan to do after graduation when they’re searching for colleges in high school. So how to you prepare for the opposite of what you’re being set up to do?

To me, the first thing is to try what you think you want to do. If you think you want to pursue research, find a professor to do research with, or apply for an NSF REU program or national lab program, like ORISE. If you think you want to go into industry, try to find an internship or co-op experience. If you have no idea, try both. More importantly, these are things that can be pursued independent of the¬†curriculum¬†offerings available. GEARS has previously discussed classes every ME should take, and I’ve talked about what I think all engineers should know, but as a student, you generally have little influence over what classes you can take.

What suggestions would you have for an undergraduate who wants to pursue the career path you took?



Advice: Don’t get stuck thinking there is only one path. Industry, academia, and don’t forget National Labs are much more interchangeable than people think. I started at a National Lab, went to academia to get a PhD, and am now in industry. Who knows, I may get back to academia at some point. If you’re successful at the job you’re doing at the moment, that success can transfer to other avenues. Get a good general background and then focus. That will take you far.

One thing to look into is what the minimum degree level is for the industry of interest. In my industry, oil & gas exploration and production, the minimum out-of-school hiring level for geoscience for mid to large companies tends to be an M.S. For reservoir engineering, an M.S. tends to be preferred, but not so strongly. If you really want to differentiate yourself, one geoscience and one petroleum engineering degree is excellent. In oil & gas, geoscientists and engineers STILL don’t talk to each other.

For those seeking a job in industry, my advice is: Be a generalist, build a strong resume, and make the interviewer want to hire you.

When I graduated, 2/3 of my class went on to grad school, and the rest of us didn’t really get much career guidance. What got me my first job (and my next 2 jobs) was a strong resume, good GPA, well respected college, and good interviews.

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