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Masters vs PhD in mechanical engineering

BritsmumBritsmum Registered User Posts: 214 Junior Member
My daughter is weighing her options. A masters in mechanical engineering from a top 5 ranked school or a PhD from a much lower ranked school. She originally wanted a PhD but the masters program from the higher ranked school has its allure. She will probably continue to get a PhD if she takes the masters option. IMO if a PhD is what you want why not just get that now regardless of the prestige or rank of the school. Am I wrong? Any thoughts or suggestions would be helpful!

Replies to: Masters vs PhD in mechanical engineering

  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,280 Forum Champion
    Going direct-to-PhD can save a semester or two of time, but in the end, what is more important than both the time taken and the prestige of the school is how well the research fit is for the student and the reputation/connections of the PhD advisor. Just because a school has a lower rank odes not mean it is not a better situation for a specific student.
  • BeaudreauBeaudreau Registered User Posts: 1,078 Senior Member
    You or your daughter will most likely have to pay for your daughter's masters degree, whereas a PhD should be fully funded. Just another consideration.
  • geraniolgeraniol Registered User Posts: 80 Junior Member
    Does the Masters school have the option or offer the possibility of transferring into the PhD track based on performance in the Masters program?

    The best option really depends on what your daughter wants to do with her degree.
  • BritsmumBritsmum Registered User Posts: 214 Junior Member
    Thank you for the responses. funding is not an issue. Her concern is the value of the degree. I guess I thought a PhD is a PhD is a PhD. She says no.
  • MandalorianMandalorian Registered User Posts: 1,714 Senior Member
    It depends if she wants to go into industry or academia. For industry, a PhD isn't required and is actually a bit redundant.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,280 Forum Champion
    It depends if she wants to go into industry or academia. For industry, a PhD isn't required and is actually a bit redundant

    No, no, no, no, a thousand times no. First of all, I am not sure if you know what the word redundant means. Unless someone already has a PhD, I don't know how a PhD can be redundant.

    Second, this is engineering we are talking about here. There are lots of opportunities for PhDs out in industry. PhDs are not just for academia.
  • xraymancsxraymancs Forum Champion Graduate School Posts: 4,442 Forum Champion
    @boneh3ad has it right. The most valuable thing about the PhD is the advisor. I have been a professor of physics at Illinois Tech for 35 years and graduated a number of PhD students. Illinois Tech's physics program is not "ranked" highly principally because smaller programs usually don't get high rankings in what is basically a popularity contest. However, my advisees and the advisees of my colleagues generally get good jobs in academia, research laboratories, or industry because they do good research and are well prepared.

    Ultimately, what is most important is what your daughter thinks will benefit her career the most. If she is not enthusiastic about the PhD program, then there is no point in going there.
  • MandalorianMandalorian Registered User Posts: 1,714 Senior Member
    edited April 7
    @boneh3ad- To clarify what I mean: A lot of (but not all) industry positions are not going to see a benefit of a PhD over a Master's. A PhD does not make someone a better or more desirable engineer than a Master's, it indicates a research focus/interest. For a research position, yes this would be a plus, but for an applied position it's 2 extra years of opportunity cost to do something above the required scope. Redundant vs a Master's in that context.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,280 Forum Champion
    To clarify what I mean: A lot of (but not all) industry positions are not going to see a benefit of a PhD over a Master's. A PhD does not make someone a better or more desirable engineer than a Master's, it indicates a research focus/interest. For a research position, yes this would be a plus, but for an applied position it's 2 extra years of opportunity cost to do something above the required scope. Redundant vs a Master's in that context.

    If someone is getting a PhD simply as a credential they think will help them command more salary or make them somehow more desirable for run-of-the-mill engineering positions, then they have some surprises in store for them. Presumably, before they reached that point, they would have sat down with a professor or other advisor and discussed these things where they would be told that there are only two reasons to get a PhD: if you want to teach and/or if you want to be involved in research as a career. I mean research in a very general sense here, because PhD engineering work in academia, industry, and government and fulfill a very wide range of niches where the common thread is research.

    PhD engineers are still very employable outside of academia provided the prospective PhD student is aware that the degree will definitely close some doors even as it opens others.
  • BritsmumBritsmum Registered User Posts: 214 Junior Member
    Ideally she wanted academia.
  • geraniolgeraniol Registered User Posts: 80 Junior Member
    @Britsmum If your daughter is interested in academia, read this article (open access): http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400005
    Or this for the general media summary: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2015/02/university_hiring_if_you_didn_t_get_your_ph_d_at_an_elite_university_good.html

    The PhD school matters. A lot, unfortunately. Personally I believe a good PhD education is more dependent on the advisor than the institution, but that’s not really how it’s treated in academia (of course there are cases of exceptions to this). Also networking is really important and easier to do at the best schools. Even your daughter isn’t wanting to teach/research at a top institution later on, if she wants to have the best shot at academia and also keep all the doors open for other careers (industry, government, policy, etc.) having a PhD from a top 20 school goes a long way. Even if she has to do a MEng first, the extra couple years in grad school are worth it if she can then get into and finish a PhD at a high ranking school. And then continue on to a prestigious postdoc position.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,280 Forum Champion
    Let's be clear here, getting a faculty position is quite difficult regardless of field. That said, the prospects are still quite a bit better in STEM fields than in the arts and humanities. Further, if that's your dream, strive for it regardless of how hard it is. Just have a back up plan.
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