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Masters vs. PhD

MechE07MechE07 Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
edited June 2006 in Engineering Majors
Quick question regarding grad school for anyone that may know.

I am currently a rising senior at a well respected engineering school studying mechanical engineering and am trying to decide what to do with grad school. I am constantly flip flopping back in forth between just going to get a masters vs sticking it out through a PhD, and really can't seem to make up my mind. I was wondering what any of you thought on the matter.

What are the various job opportunities open to each path? What is the difference between these job opportunities? Which is the better path financially? How high up can you get with both degrees (in the engineering world)? Which options would leave you with a better opportunity to get into senior engineering/managerial positions or be more adapt to changing of a career (to something possibly in the finance world)?

I won't lie, money is somewhat important to me, I would prefer to live a very comfy life, that is why I consideredonly doing a masters, working a few years as a practical engineer then get involved with the managerial/finance aspect of things.

All opinions are appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Post edited by MechE07 on

Replies to: Masters vs. PhD

  • dr_reynoldsdr_reynolds Registered User Posts: 536 Member
    Usually people pursue the PhD path because they want a certain type of job, not because it will get them more money. The PhD is for people who want teaching or research positions in engineering. From what I am gathering from your interests, this does not sounds like what you are interested. I would recommend a master's degree and if your interests change you could pursue the PhD after that.

    Many engineers earn just as much or more with a master's then they could with a PhD. Unless teaching or research was something you were interested in I would not pursue a PhD.
  • MechE07MechE07 Registered User Posts: 4 New Member

    Could you please define what you mean by "research position" in engineering, particularly in the industrial setting. Basically, exactly what jobs will masters students vs PhD students get in industry. I worry that all of the Senior Engineering positions and R&D positions will be gobbled up by PhD candidates leaving the lower jobs for the BS/MS students (something that worries me).

    I guess the reason I am thinking about all of this is what a grad student told me last year. She spent a year working at Lockheed Martin just after completing her B.S. and basically said that there is little room for improvement there with only a B.S. The bare minimum to get a good job is a Masters and most of the top positions now a days are held by people with PhDs. Is this true?

    So basically, what are the exact differences between the jobs masters students get vs. phd students.

    Thanks in advance
  • morfinxmorfinx Registered User Posts: 370 Member
    MechE, I was in your position in the not too distant past. I decided that I am only going to get a Masters (I'm ECE) as my primary interest is working in the industry. I will however, get a MBA after I'm done with my MS. PhD, according to my findings, are primary aimed at the academia. However, you can def find R&D posts suitable for PhD's in the industry. PhD's get paid more than Masters, but they also have fewer opportunities. One reason is overqualification. Why would an employer hire someone that commands a higher salary when a cheaper hire could do the same job? My father ran into that problem when he got his PhD. I spoke to one of my profs who worked in the industry when he got his masters and later went back for his PhD. He said the research firm he went to work for had a handful of masters, a couple of bachelors, and a few doctorates. So, in my personal opinion, if you plan to work in the industry and aren't fixated on R&D posts, a masters would be sufficient for just about every position.
  • aibarraibarr Registered User Posts: 4,249 Senior Member

    I would recommend applying to grad school as a PhD if you're at all interested. PhD *applicants* typically have an easier time attracting money, at least in civ... Not sure if it's true for mech, but it couldn't hurt. Also, that'd leave your options open for later on, if you decide that you *do* want to pursue a doctorate.

    I applied as a PhD student to UIUC, having really wanted to get my doctorate in structural. Once I got there, the grad school situation more or less convinced me that I would really rather not spend seven-plus years in Champaign-Urbana...! Once you get done with your masters work, wherever you go, if you like your advisor and like grad school and think that you'd be able to slog through a doctoral degree, you can take quals and stick it out another several years to get your PhD, so you don't really have to decide now. You can also have that time while you're getting your masters degree to see what your colleagues end up doing once they get their PhDs. If you decide that doing what they end up doing is the sort of thing you'd like, then that can help you decide what path to pursue, too.

    Good luck!
  • morfinxmorfinx Registered User Posts: 370 Member
    aibarr does have a point there, PhD students have an easier time getting funded than Masters students. In engineering I believe close to 90% of PhD students are funded versus a bit over half of the Master students. I was fortunate enough to land a TA position, but it's something to consider.

    aibarr, any reason you didn't want to stay in UIUC for the long haul?
  • MechE07MechE07 Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    Thanks for your replies, but they left me with a few more questions :)


    I have considered doing what you say. Applying with the intent of getting a PhD in efforts to get funding and then going from there. In your experience is it kosher to just drop out once you have finished your masters, even if you were accepted,and funded, with the school thinking that you are going for a doctorate? Also, in your experience do you think you could share with me some of the differences between jobs with a PhD and jobs without, I realize we are in different fields but any advice would be helpful to me at this point


    I was just curious as to why you are going for a MS then plan to go for a MBA. What are you hoping to achieve by doing this? I was under the impression that you should go for a MBA if your highest degree was a BS.
  • morfinxmorfinx Registered User Posts: 370 Member
    I suppose I'm trying to strike a balance between the quixotic and the pragmatic sides of me. I feel that while an undergrad engineering education is rigorous, it only serves to teach the students the basics. It gives them the tools to learn. I feel that at the end of my undergrad career, I did't know enough about the subject matters that interest me the most. That's why I wanted to get a MS so I can delve deeper into these topics. I want to eventually be in a position to influence the direction of product design within a company. I feel that this kind of position requires advanced knowledge of the subject matter (MS), and also supervising and managerial skills (MBA).

    If that doesn't work out, I can always just brag about having two masters :p (I kid I kid)
  • aibarraibarr Registered User Posts: 4,249 Senior Member
    Why didn't I stay at UIUC? Well, I'm a city gal, and cornfields just don't do it for me. =) There's more to it than that, but that's the basic idea of it... Just wasn't that happy at UIUC. Now I'm in LA, which suits me much better.

    Is it entirely kosher to say you're gung-ho for a doctoral degree when you think you might change your mind? Well, nothing's ever certain in life, so some degree of uncertainty is expected with regard to whether or not you actually will end up pursuing your doctorate. If you're 90% sure that you're *not* going to go for your PhD, it'd be pretty shady to say that you fully intend to get a doctorate in order to get funding, but if you're wavering between the two, it's a good idea to apply as a MS/PhD candidate instead. If you get done with your masters and you're not locked in because of NSF fellowships (which you have to apply for separately, so no danger of being locked into anything by just going for grad school), then there are plenty of people who bail out with just their masters degrees. At U of I, I actually was left a big ol' box of half-finished research that a guy had abandoned after getting his masters and deciding to skip the PhD thing to instead go back home, so it happens pretty frequently.

    With regard to the differences between jobs *with* a PhD and jobs *without*, there's a lot more research that goes along with jobs that you need a PhD for. Essentially, becoming a PhD means that you get a degree in engineering research (or at least it does in my field...) which means that you can end up going to work for JPL, as my officemate did, or working at a national laboratory like Sandia or Los Alamos or something... There are a lot of people in the private sector that have PhDs, too, and they're doing a lot of testing and R&D type stuff, at least in civ. I think it's roughly the same for mechanical engineering PhDs. Also, with a PhD, the realm of academia will be open to you, if you decide you want to be a professor.
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