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Anthony Girk

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If you are an engineering student, will you study to the PhD level?

+ stands for reasons to go for a PhD degree, - stands for the opposite. My considerations are as follows.

+: passion for continuous learning; undergraduate engineering studies really just touch on a broad domain of knowledge without going into anything in depth; the current technology has become more and more sophisticated, which calls for advanced expertise more than ever; have the chance to work more collaboratively with talented people of different backgrounds; higher positions typically require higher educations; it's hard.

-: a huge investment in time and money; could be too specialized in a single area thus losing the guts to change; not enough jobs for doctors in engineering; it's hard.

What's your opinion on this? Do you agree with me on any reasons I list above? What would you add to the +/- contents?

I'd love to see any debate based on your analysis or experience.

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    Jul 23 2012: A PhD is not necessarily an investment of money. Many PhDs, especially in engineering, computer science and natural science are funded. They can be a source of income, so money can be a + rather than a - if you look in the right places.

    I am currently a PhD student and I receive a comfortable stipend that enables me to live while I do what I love: Science!

    An Mres (Masters of Research) can be a good stepping stone if you're not sure if you want to do a doctorate. You'll get a feel for what PhD level is like for a year. If you didn't enjoy your Mres, you know PhDs are not for you and you'll only have invested a year for a Masters (which will give you a good advantage in the working world).
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      Jul 25 2012: I agree with the point that a PhD ''can be a source of income''. I have a German friend who recently told me that he's got a job in Singapore, and it turned out to be a PhD. And in some universities in China, PhD students get pretty good pay too.

      However, comparing to the whole cost of studying and living, a stipend might not be sufficient enough to be fully financially independent. I mean, perhaps still some other means of income are needed, which might be negative factor of this matter.
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    Jul 15 2012: I think it comes down to the individual. What I would ask any individual who has just finished undergraduate work is "Do you know anyone hiring, in a field you find interesting?", "Are there "dream" jobs or companies, that you could get in at the bottom floor of with only an undergraduate degree?", "Do you have an idea of your own? Do you need to borrow the money for school, or do you have it now, and could use it to start your own business instead of graduate school?".

    Each situation and circumstance will be unique. Students looking for a doctorate, should know that, this is the career, they will work in, for the rest of their life. It's a tough choice to make when you're yount, and you can always come back to school, but for the most part, you can't unspeciallize.

    I think in some ways you may have touched on a mild cultural difference between west and east in this dialogue. You will find lots of Americans, and westerners in general who will tell you "There is no right answer", or "Do whatever your passions drive you to do". You seem to respond with "well I didn't mean me personally"... well, we didn't either.

    Some of us, often called hippies, actually mean "there is no right answer". Some people think that every individual in a society can do whatever the heck they feel like... Most of us don't mean it that way though. What we mean is "There are 4 or 5 right ways, and everyone should get to pick the one that works for them". That is our collective philosophy though, it's not just what we would tell you personally as a young engineer. We don't think you should make the choice based on + -, live in the moment, for better or worse.

    Is that philosophy right? It really doesn't sound all that smart when you think about it... but it worked for a really long time, I think we get about even money odds in a debate : )
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      Jul 16 2012: Thank you, David. You really offered me some fresh ideas on this.

      I agree whether engineering students should go to grad school is a individual choice, or like what Salim put, "There shouldn't be any "should" kind of thing in such cases". However, I do not mean it in general. I guess I was just asking the every individual on TED, who have seen my post, to make their own choice on this issue. Just imagine you are a undergraduate engineering student who are thinking about where your future lies, what choice would you made and what are the reasons for that? You can't just say "I feel I'm going to do x" or "I think x works for me" for no reason.

      In other words, I was actually inviting people to list their reasons for whether or not to take a PhD on a specific +/- basis (which contains the idea of optimization, which is the major part of most engineers' work), instead of stuff like feeling, which is too vague and unreliable.

      I also noticed that westerners and easterners think differently in a couple of respects, which is one of the reasons I posted here. Generally, people from the east tend to seek a standard answer for any problem. But it doesn't mean the answer has to be fixed, which I see no much difference from the western philosophy.
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        Jul 18 2012: Ahh, I understand a bit better now. In my current situation, I am actually considering returning to college at 29, and I may in fact go on to grad school. When I was young I chose a quick 2 year tech degree, Computer Networking. I thought it was a stable hedge against poverty, and I believed I was smart enough to move up at any company I enjoyed working for.

        It actually worked out, I have a decade of distribution experience, and could probably start moving into lower management, or become a system administrator for a small company. What I find however, is that I don't like the current job market. I know that sounds childish, but very few products I like are made in my country anymore, a lot of the best stuff is made over seas. So my simple goal of middle management, or even stable labor for a green energy or technology company, seems a bit more like a pipe dream nowadays.

        My country is in love with its educational institutions... I didn't find them all that impressive, but I'm not an employer. I think the best path for me even this late in life may be to go back for a STEM graduate degree. Probably engineering. If I had enough money to pay for that graduate degree outright however, I'd start a business instead. I'm a very confident person, and I've got big ideas.

        If you have an idea you're confident will sell, and you have some cash... I'd say skip out on grad school, and take a risk. You can always go back. If you're broke, and you can get a really good loan though, I do believe grad school will pay for itself.
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          Jul 19 2012: Hi, David. Thanks for sharing your story and wisdom. I can see from your comments that you are a smart guy with deep concerns about the society you live in. And you've got big ideas. I wish your future education/career a success one!

          Speaking of me, I'm determined to pursue a graduate study in a research university. I don't know the situation in US; but in China, people with a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering are mostly doing simple, repetitive, and sweatful work, whereas a graduate degree will put you at a leader position, whose work is much more challenging and brings more accomplishments.

          Of couse you can start your own business and be the boss of yourself. But I still don't think someone with just an undergrad study could succeed in today's highly specialized industry.
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        Jul 22 2012: That is fascinating to hear. I had always, worried that might be the case in China. In America, it is actually difficult, and expensive to get into a bachelors degree progam in engineering, but, then it provides a lot of real opportunity. Our 2 year and tech degrees are used for the simple repetetive work. I actually enjoy simple labor. I think it is good for a man to get a little sweat at work, but that work is no longer valued... really anywhere, so I have to adjust.

        I have the grades, and talent, to get into an engineering program, or a biology program, so as I have matured, I realize, it is stubborn, and wasteful not to try. I'm a little old to realize that though, so in general, I think you make a wise investment continuing your education. Don't forget to sweat though, men were designed to chase the horrizon, and run with the wolves, my society is getting a bit soft, because our degrees got too easy and plentiful.

        I think a good mind goes to waste in repetative labor, but I also think management that refuses to sweat, will have a lazy workforce. If you end up stuck in a cubicle, get some exercise every once in awhile. Go down to the floor, with the people implementing your designs, and see how they do it in a practical way. You'll be shocked how often low end laborers become aware of a costly or inefficient aspect of production, before management, or design.

        The people building it... know what they're doing sometimes. Most people aren't stupid, they're just so terrified of being wrong that they come off that way. I'm arrogant, so I don't suffer from that problem... I come off looking stupid for an entirely different reason : p
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    Jul 14 2012: The higher the level of education, then generally speaking, the narrower and more concentrated the focus of expertise - depending on the subject studied. This can have the effect of disconnecting one from the important 'broader picture' - the context in which such focused expertise operates.

    As an example, a highly trained, expert economist might only see the world in terms of economic criteria - little else. Whist such focused knowledge is laudable in many ways, the broader context of human and environmental impact is often missing.

    Success in the focused intensity of a PhD education would be a fantastic achievement for you. But please keep the broad picture in sharp focus too by reading around your subject.
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      Jul 14 2012: Totally agree! Thank you, Allan.
  • Jul 14 2012: I believe that the most important thing to consider is what you are really passionate about in the field. What is your life's goal or vision? This is very much important than thinking of your financial prospects.
    Passion is that extra factor that differentiates someone who just does something because everyone is doing it, from someone who has a purpose of pursuit.

    If you have to study to the PhD level to learn vital and relevant lessons, so be it.

    But dont forget that its not all about degrees and qualifications. It's also about talent, persistence, attitude and insightful understanding of societal needs.
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      Jul 14 2012: Hi Feyisayo. Thank you for your response.

      I think what I, and perhaps many other engineering students, really passionate about is the field itself - engineering! I'm not passionate about getting higher degree such as a PhD.

      But I agree with you on that passion should play the most important role in doing anything. Nobody can promise that he chooses all the right roads in his life. But people with passion is always looking at the bright side. I'll add this one.
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    Jul 23 2012: In the final analysis .... circumstances will dictate. It will not be pasion, love of learning, etc... It all boils down to time and money. For someone who just graduated for any number of reasons it may be time to bring home the bacon. In the US the job market is shrinking and if you can get a job it is probally a good idea. THAT becomes a giant circumstance. How about if you get the PHd and no upper level job openings are available ... will you be hired at the lower level.

    When NASA shut down all of the PHd and masters flooded the market and many settled for cab drivers as there was nothing for them. The fear was that they would use the company resources to hunt a better job and not be an asset but instead a chair holder looking for the next job.

    About every seven to ten years the aircraft industry shuts down and bids for the next contract. It stays down for a year or so and then rehires.

    So the job market even in good times can throw you a curve. These are not good times.

    Just something to think about.

    All the best. Bob.
    • Jul 24 2012: I agree with Robert
      I was an engineer student and money was a powerfull desition constrain.
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      Jul 25 2012: Hello, Bob. Thanks for your input. I know this might not be a good time for US. Job markets are shrinking while people's appetite are growing. But I guess you guys could just take this period for a reflection and come back when the time becomes better.

      In my country the economy is also interfered. But the industry I'm going to work in still looks promising. And actually, it might be just the right time to enter the industry immediately after graduation according to your theory, since there're plenty of jobs right now. But my experience told me this might not work for me. I'm sure I can get a comfortable salary with the undergraduate degree, whereas the job itself and the people I work with will not make me feel that comfortable. And that reason for me is more important than any other reasons.
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        Jul 25 2012: Anthony, Your mind has already been made up on this subject and that is fine. Not all people have the options that you appear to have. Some of us would go hungry and homeless if we did not work just because we did not like the job or the people.

        One last question. How will the job or people change when you have a advanced degree. Will you still feel uncomfortable.

        Anthony I know this is rude, please forgive me, but it sounds like you are on a ego trip and want to be the boss or nothing. If you do not like the job or people what kind of a boss will you be. I do not think I would like to work with some one who enters with that type of attitude.

        I do not expect an answer but offer you this for your reflection and hope that you understand I said this to you because it is how you have expressed yourself to me.

        All the best. Bob.
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          Jul 26 2012: Bob, I think you misunderstand me on this thing. I never mean I should be ''the boss or nothing''. Actually, as an engineering student, I'm deeply aware of the importance of teamwork. Maybe two hundred years ago a single engineer can invent a relatively complex machine along, but today you must be in a team and work together, or put it another way, you need to have interdisciplinary collaboration in order to success in this society. However, the job positions opened for undergrad students in my industry are mostly negative on that. I've seen how they work in our lab, and it proved my opinion.

          I agree that it's possible that I might still not enjoy the work after I get a higher degree. But it doesn't mean I've done everything wrong. Life is full of uncertainty. I cannot assure I make every step right, but at least I'm walking towards the right direction.

          Finally, I'd like to thank you for telling me how you truly think. And I wish your life a good one.
  • Jul 18 2012: + if you want to become an expert and pursue research or teaching type profession.
    - if you intend to work in an industry. Some companies used to have incentives for staff or research engineers but those positions are disappearing in a lot of sectors.

    Ultimately it is a choice and desire for whatever the reason (position, title, expertise, etc..)
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    Jul 15 2012: I don't think so we need this much time to research in a circled building, Web opens doors to everyone
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    Jul 14 2012: I suspect you will get more reliable insight on your question from people in your field who understand the focus of graduate programs in your field as well as the nature of employment in your field. I notice in your exposition you did not include the option of a Masters, which I thought was what most engineers embrace as the most useful degree for someone interested in applied work.
    There must be websites called things like The Society of ___ Engineers where you will see useful discussion of, or articles about,, your question.
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      Jul 14 2012: Thank you for your suggestions, Fritzie. I wished to initiate a debate on whether today's engineering students should study to the PhD level but it ended up like I was asking advice for whether I should go for a PhD. That is not what I mean.

      I've been frequent to the kind of websites you mentioned and I do get plenty of useful information. The reason I post this is I just want to hear what TED members think about this issue.
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        Jul 14 2012: I am glad you are consulting people who understand your field and the nature of education and training in your field.
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    Jul 14 2012: There shouldn't be any "should" kind of thing in such cases.....it's individual decision
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      Jul 14 2012: Then what do you think would be the right way of putting this?
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        Jul 14 2012: Look the matter of learning is an individual decision that's what I wanted to say.........lot's of invention came from people who didn't even have a degree........when you yourself mentioned about "passion for continuous learning" which I don't see to have any attachment with any degree......degrees are just certification , it doesn't indicate how much one is / was passionate about learning....

        So my feeling is that the question may sound like ....what about being open to continuous learning even after attaining the highest degree (subject is immaterial here as it is applicable to any subject)?

        But that's my feeling....you are free to ask any question any way you want but it's good to remain open to any other thoughts which I believe you are.