Engineering Grad School

Worthwhile time/money/effort investment?

I did my grad school in education rather than engineering, but I will say grad school of just about any sort is definitely worth it. It will pay for itself in pretty short order, so long as your university doesn’t charge ridiculous tuition. Don’t think twice, and don’t wait. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to go back to school.

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I went to grad school for engineering management, and my previous employer (a fortune 500) covered the cost. I enjoyed my grad school classes (in some cases) more than my undergrad courses. Depending on what you want to do, and what career path you want to take, should help make that decision for you. I will say, it can be detrimental to have a master’s degree in management with very little experience under your belt, if you want to find a new role (my department had layoffs right after they finished paying for my degree, which I think hurt my applications rather than helped in some instances.)

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I ended up continuing onto Grad school because I didn’t feel done learning yet. I had more I wanted to explore, and some awesome opportunities to do so.

Talking with some fellow classmates, don’t go into Grad school purely because “You didn’t know what else to do” or you were trying to “Race to the top”. I know multiple there that are only still in it because “it feels like a waste to give up now” but really rather would be doing something else.

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Money:
First, try for full funding. Even if you paid for undergrad, grad is different. You have a university/professional track record now. See if someone will invest on terms you like. If not, I trust the math. What’s the ROI calc say?

Example: I started out funded but not fully because my ROI looked good. For most of my first and all of my second degree (except when I got sick again), I got paid in full with no obligation to work for the sponsor beyond graduation. I wouldn’t have done the second otherwise.

Time:
I can believe there’s a point in many engineers lives where grad school makes sense, but it’s not always right now. It’s an opportunity cost thing. What would you do now instead?

Example: I might’ve gone direct 4-year → grad school, but I got a really cool job at my first university and then got to work abroad. I’m very glad I didn’t stick to my early grad school plans and miss that. I ended up going later as a way to fill time recovering from a debilitating illness, so the opportunity cost ended up low. For my second grad degree, though, that was only worth it because the associated job. Just doing the motions wouldn’t have been worth it in my life, but the job that came with it definitely still is.

Effort:
I guess this depends on how you felt about undergrad. I like school, and I didn’t find the undergrad (or later indeed grad) curricula unduly torturous, so this wasn’t the big factor for me. If biology isn’t your forte and you’re considering becoming a brain surgeon, this would be more of an issue. I am terrible at biology, which is why I’m a roboteer.

Info: Carnegie Mellon, MS Engineering Innovation Management (in Engineering & Policy Dept) & MS Computational Design (in MechE Dept). Still a systems engineer for CMU’s Robotics Institute.

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At the risk of being overly negative, I’d say it’s pretty dangerous to provide such absolute sounding advice. Even with reasonable tuition, costs of living, etc., it’s possible for grad school to not make sense financially.

For context, I’ve been working in the SF Bay Area for 3 years and graduated (B.S. Mech Eng) from a UC. I was fortunate (read: poor) enough to qualify for Cal Grant, so tuition was essentially waived but I had to borrow loans for rent, food, etc. I don’t know this for sure, but the best case is that I could’ve continued to grad school tuition-free while still having to borrow for costs of living.

Instead, I started working full-time immediately after Undergrad. It took me a bit less that 2 years to get promoted to the same level as incoming Master’s grads, and all the while I was getting paid a full salary instead of taking out loans (see above). There are plenty of valid reasons to do some kind of grad school, but in my situation it definitely would not have financially “[paid] for itself in short order.”

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I’ve already grumbled about the financial aspect, so now I’ll take a step back and try to be more constructive.

For starters, there are at least a few distinct flavors of Engineering Grad School:

  • 5th Year Masters without Research (i.e: “Industry-Bound”)
  • 5th Year Masters with Research
  • Engineering + Business/Management Hybrid Programs (e.g: UC Berkeley M.Eng, UMich Dual Degree)
  • PhD programs with a Masters in the middle
  • Straight to PhD

Which of these did you have in mind?

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I’m in the initial exploration phase and am excited to learn from experiences across several of these options.

I should also note that my soon-to-be degree is in Product Design which definitely changes things…

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It’s hard to give blanket advice because there are so many paths and so many factors. At the end of the day, being “worth it” depends mostly on personal preferences - what are you looking to get out of it?

Instead I’ll share my personal experience:

I got my Master’s in Aerospace Engineering at Purdue after a gap year working as a lab assistant at WPI following my Bachelor’s. At that point in time I knew that I wanted to work in the aerospace industry, and that the types of engineering jobs I was looking at did not require a MS, nor would I necessarily increase my pay from it (the pay raises over the first 2 years as a new hire with a BS can exceed the pay increase associated with having a MS, depending on industry/company/location).

There were two main factors in my decision - I felt like undergrad had only just started to scratch the surface on the topics I was interested in academically, and I wanted an opportunity to do academic research before transitioning to industry. I was pretty certain that if I started working full time, I would not have a realistic opportunity to do thesis research even if I did later get a MS funded through a company continued education program. These factors drove me to get my MS as a full time student before starting my engineering career.

From a financial standpoint - I was really only interested in programs that could offer at least partial financial coverage as a Teaching Assistant (TA) or Research Assistant (RA). For what I was looking at, this was a reasonable expectation but that’s not always the case.

In the end, I accepted a TA-funded offer from Purdue with no promise of thesis research, but was able to transition to RA (and a thesis) after my first semester through talking to various professors and being known when opportunities came up.

For me, my grad school experience was absolutely worth it because I accomplished my goals (published a thesis, learned about more advanced topics in my field of interest). I really enjoyed my time at Purdue.

In terms of benefits to my career however, they are less tangible. While my tuition was covered through TA and RA scholarships, I definitely DID NOT come out ahead financially - my starting offer at Boeing was still a Level 1/entry level position with standard, non-negotiable salary. I was able to advance slightly quicker than average due to having my MS count for years of experience, but on-balance I’m behind on the pay scale relative to if I’d started the same job 2 years earlier without a graduate degree. And while there are some opportunities at Boeing to work on projects closely related to my grad school focus, I chose to go a slightly different direction so my coursework and thesis research are almost never applicable to my day-to-day job.

TLDR; what you are looking to get out of grad school will be a major factor in what kinds of programs/opportunities you should look for and whether or not that will end up being worth it to you. I’m glad I got my Master’s degree, I have a published thesis that I am very proud of, but my graduate degree has almost no impact on my day-to-day job, which is totally fine with me!

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I am currently a 4th year PhD student in Electrical Engineering.

Here are some of the top things to consider:

  1. If you are considering a PhD or a Master’s degree that has a research component, it is imperative that you think about your potential advisor. Your advisor is arguably the most important person in your development as a researcher and will have the greatest impact on your time as a graduate student. Beyond the research topic they are interested in and funding availability, both of which are incredibly important, you also have to consider their working style, group dynamics, expectations, etc.

I am lucky to have a wonderfully supportive advisor that has helped me grow both as a researcher and as a teacher, but unfortunately I have heard so many stories of unhealthy working environments, etc. You are going to be spending a significant period of time working for this person and you need to be sure it is a good fit for you.

  1. Graduate school is meant to provide depth into your area of study, rather than the breadth that an undergraduate degree provides, so consider what areas you are interested in and make sure you pick something you enjoy! Think about your career goals and how a graduate degree can help you achieve those.

  2. Funding is critical to think about, not only before you start your graduate degree, but is something you should be periodically checking in on throughout. As mentioned above TA and RA options are the most common avenues of funding. Fellowships also exist but are very competitive. Knowing your position in terms of funding will take a lot of stress off your shoulders.

  3. Lots of people will have opinions about the best way to do graduate school, but it really is a personalized journey. Do what is right for you!

Happy to answer any questions through DM, good luck :slight_smile:

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From a post-grad employment perspective, it’s somewhere between “doesn’t matter” and “a good leg up” on your peers.

For STEM fields, you shouldn’t have to pay for it, there is enough finding and money out there. I’d be wary of a program that insists otherwise.

As a person doing hiring, I’d call a masters roughly equivalent to three years of industry experience. Expect starting salaries to reflect that.

I often hear quotes about the longer term career impacts of having a master’s, and I think it can have some influence for sure, especially in more researchy jobs. However, I also question whether certain claims like “you will make an extra $1 million dollars over your career” are more correlation than causation.

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This is the best advice in the thread. My personal experience:

I do not have a graduate degree. I got my BS in Aero and hired directly into Boeing where I’ve been for the last 10 years. I don’t think having a grad degree up to this point would’ve provided any formal benefit to my career, I’ve been able to do the work I want to do and it’s never been an impediment for advancement.

That said, plenty of my coworkers have advanced degrees, and I definitely do benefit from working with them.

On the financial side, if you do it I totally agree that you should not pay for it. Either work for a big company that will pay for night school if you want to do it that way (like Boeing) or get research funding. Again, my experience has been that it was financially optimal to keep working, so either the path I took of not getting one or doing night school. I really can’t see how getting the night school one would’ve advanced my career any faster either.

On the personal side, I do think you want to do it pretty early in your career. I think like an MBA there is some benefit to a little real world experience, but life’s other commitments build up quick, so I wouldn’t wait more than a couple years to get started. From observing coworkers that have done the night school thing, it is a grind.

TLDR; Don’t have one, as far as I can tell it hasn’t been a detriment. I’m glad some people have them though!

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Education: BS in Comp Sci
Career: I make pretty pictures with javascript (I’m a software engineer - for most of my career my speciality was interactive data visualization though that seems to be changing as of late.)

I’ve considered an MS a few times over my career - I started out at an employer that would generally cover it financially and if I could make a valid case even give me 20% of my paid time to do it. For a variety of reasons it was just never in the cards.

Every few years I consider it again but my current employer lacks the support of my prior one and the thought of writing a big check for something doesn’t sit well with me given my somewhat lackluster performance in formal schooling in the past. (ie I don’t tend to function well in formal education systems. Shocking nobody that knows me - I am a very opinionated person and that has caused issues…)

I’ve never found it terribly detrimental not to have an advanced degree. That may change if I was in a space that was more credential minded. Though I will say I am currently the only person in my group at work without an advanced degree. It doesn’t impact my ability to do my job but I’ll admit sometimes it does make me wonder if I shoulda prioritized it.

For me, the lack of an advanced degree has never really gotten in the way of where I wanted to go with my career. Course, where I want to go with my career is largely “provide me with enough income to live the life I want.” If your personal goals are different your mileage may vary.

TLDR - if you want to, do it. If your life goals make you want one, do it. If not, then don’t.

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First, one should also consider what one’s career goals are.

There are some fields where having a post-graduate degree is absolutely mandatory. In others, it is totally unnecessary. There are even some types of jobs where a post-graduate degree will prevent you from being considered.

I have a Bachelors of Applied Science degree in Electrical Engineering and have been doing circuit design work for almost 40 years now. I have not needed a post-graduate degree for any of the work I have done. I have had to continue my education since many of the technologies I have worked with were probably not even a glint in some researchers eye when I was in university. Having said that, I have worked on projects with people who had to get their PhD in order to have the knowledge to do their part of the work (motor control theory, radio propagation).

At my last employer, we were doing a lot of sustaining work (fixing errors in drawings, replacing obsolete components, reducing costs). I recall sitting in on a meeting where we reviewed a number of applicants, one of whom had a PhD. Since that applicant was so over-qualified for the position, we wondered how long they would stay if we hired them so we didn’t even bring them in for an interview.

At a large telecom company that a schoolmate worked at, also doing circuit design, they published “salary curves”. These showed the salary ranges for employees of a particular type with varying amounts of work experience. It also showed the salary ranges for those with post-graduate education. In general, someone with a Masters degree would get what someone with a Bachelors degree with two years more work experience would get. So for people working at that company, if one could do the work that one aspired to do, one would be further ahead not getting an advanced degree.

I have also worked with quite a few engineers who went into management and got an MBA along the way. Often, the tuition was reimbursed by the employer. Many of the universities in our area (Texas) have opened satellite campuses for the their business schools and/or have programs that are “friendly” to students who are employed full-time.

If one is pursuing a post-graduate degree, choose the research topic carefully. I have seen cases of bright candidates who were washed out of the hiring process because the employer wanted someone who had done their research in exactly the field they had put in the job description. Remember, most of the people working in HR departments do not have technical backgrounds and are often just looking for buzzwords.

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Ask why. Why do you want an advanced degree?

If it’s because you are good at this and can be better, great. But if you’re last in the class of PhD students, maybe a Bachelor’s was enough?

So, what is it you expect to get from a master’s?

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