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  • What's Wrong with having a PhD?

    Discussion in 'General jobs discussion' started by mhjones12, Mar 12, 2013.

    1. CJSteele

      CJSteele New Member

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      I recall a time many years ago when Ford had a graduate program specifically for PhDs. But no more. I recall when I was going for jobs with a PhD. I think the issue is multiple: I noticed the following: manager and other engineers didn't always like the idea of a more qualified person being around (they were used to be the most qualified), they assume you have a lot of useless knowledge (this is only partly true, I only once used knowledge from my PhD in my work), they assume that you're less interested in working as an engineer (when I look at a number of my fellow PhD students, I can see why they think this).

      I do know that consultants like to employ PhDs; it allows them to claim that they have extra skills that their clients do not, which is essential for consultancies to show. You might like to look into these areas.

      Finally, you need to find the right way to talk about your PhD. I found that if I said that 'while I have a specialisation, I enjoy a broad range of interests', then I was better received. Many employment agents seem to have mental limitations and will still not get what you're talking about though. Just move on from them. I noticed that such people were not worth my time. The other thing you can do is explain why you did the PhD. If you say something like - 'this topic fascinated me and I wanted to take it further than what was covered in undergrad', then that helps. If asked why work in industry, then you can say 'I have gotten the academia bug right out of my system and I am really keen to do more tangible work.' I found that these things went down fairly well. You want to basically look like you're one of them and that the PhD is more like a hobby that gives you a few extra bit of potentially useful knowledge.

      I hope that helps.
       
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    3. becklectic

      becklectic New Member

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      Company worries for Ph.D's - maybe true, maybe not. These assume you are trying to join a company which does not normally utilize many Ph.D's (and perhaps organizations that need to, in spite of that).

      1) Lack of company/production/design/project/etc. experience that you would have gained in the organization (and you don't have) while commanding a high salary relative to other employees.
      2) Too specialized, or specialty not truly matching needs, regardless of your general education background. Won't you miss your specialty?
      3) "We need products, profits and to hold people accountable, not publications and a collegial spirit."
      4) "The work we do is considered a trade secret. It is confidential. You cannot publish it. You cannot talk to peers outside the company about it without prior authorization/censorship."
      5) "You will become dissatisfied with industry and leave after we bring you up to speed."
      6) "Are you willing to get your hands dirty?"

      Of course, it all depends on the industry, the company and its needs, and on your particular background.
       
    4. mhjones12

      mhjones12 Well-Known Member

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      Thanks for all the replies. It seems strange to me, aren’t we in a time where prejudice is considered bad? Yet people see PhD and they think “impractical and not time efficient.” Shouldn’t they judge each person as an individual? Maybe my situation is different, but where I’ve completed my graduate research is a very practical and hands-on environment (check out the company website http://ahmct.ucdavis.edu/). My advisor, Professor Velinsky, is easily the most practical person on the faculty; in fact, he is the only real “design” professor in the Mechanical Engineering department (which I think is absurd, probably because I am a more practical person and think that the design side is the most interesting).

      My advisor is also known for pushing his students to complete their work as soon as possible. My PhD took 3.5 years, while it is more typical for it to take 5-9 years. So I definitely don’t think the “not time efficient” aspect is completely fair. For my internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, they dropped me in the middle of one of their engineering departments with 2 projects to do in 3 months. That’s on top of something like 60-80 hours of online training that every employee has to complete (including interns). Not only did I take both projects to a reasonable completion, I went beyond the scope of one of my projects on my own initiative. At my close-out presentation, where I only presented my main project, I heard one of the senior engineers comment that they had given me too much work, and he didn’t even know I had a second project that I also took to completion. I took that as confirmation that I can get things done.

      I understand that most engineering jobs out there do not require a PhD. I got the PhD for myself and don’t expect most employers to care. But I also have B.S. and M.S., so if a job description lists that it requires a B.S. or an M.S, I still meet those requirements, don’t I? Should the PhD be held against me as a negative? I have a family to provide for, so a postdoc is out of the question (they are temporary and pay less than an average janitor, check out: http://www.sigmaxi.org/postdoc/highlights.pdf). Thus I need a job outside of academia. Only a few employers I have found so far will require or desire a PhD, such as national laboratories, but the budget sequestration has caused them to be in a hiring freeze (my supervisor at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wants to hire me, but can’t because of the hiring freeze). So industry has become my biggest hope. Yet they won’t hire me, stating “over qualified.” But if I’m “over qualified,” then that implies there are jobs for which I am “qualified.” Yet they don’t exist, since any higher job will also require extensive experience, which I don’t have. So I’m stuck, I’m “over qualified” for an entry level position, and “under experienced” for a senior position. This forces many PhD holders to find work completely outside of their field. It seems screwed up: “oh, you have a master’s degree, okay, you’re hired”, “oh, you have a PhD, sorry, you can never be an engineer.”

      Another reason: they think I’ll expect higher pay then my M.S. or B.S. counterparts. Is that really a good basis to deny me the chance to be an engineer? Is it too hard for employers to say “no, you were hired for a position that required a B.S. or M.S., therefore that’s what we expect to pay you”? I fully expect to be paid at the level of the position I am hired at, and since I really want to be an engineer, I will gladly accept this as an alternative to leaving engineering or not being able to provide for my family.

      Another reason: I may want to leave for something better. Before they were afraid I was “impractical and not time efficient,” and now they’re afraid I have too much potential? Wait, now they won’t hire me because I have too much potential? How ridiculous is that? And besides, who wouldn’t want to leave if they found a better opportunity? So again I am forced to move outside of engineering, this time because I have too much potential.

      I can’t even see how to convince employers that I can be productive or how to frame my PhD in the right light, since they won’t even give me the time of day. At career fairs, most companies flat out say they will not hire PhDs. Also, I’ve applied to many jobs for which I was perfectly qualified for (many I had all requirements and many desired qualifications), and I don’t even get a call or email. My guess would be they see “PhD” and they turn away. Now I have just begun my job search, but I have seen plenty of things online about this and talked to many companies at career fairs and I see these trends. I won’t give up easily, and maybe I’ll get lucky and it won’t be that much of a problem, but I also have a family to provide for so I can only try for so long before I am forced to give up and move on. Sorry if this turned into a bit of a rant, but after nearly a decade of training to do something I love, the thought of being turned away is disheartening, to say the least.
       
    5. Dave B

      Dave B Active Member

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      Matt
      Your response to the input you got from many practicing engineers would indicate your not absorbing the input.
      in today's job market as it has been for my career of 40 years in the US, employers are looking for candidates that they are willing to bet on becoming good employees with the skill's and diversity to do the job well if not excellent.

      Put your self in their shoes for a moment and don't think of prejudice but rather what skill sets does each candidate bring to the company. A PHD with no experience has the added education but typically in a specialty area. A masters has similar issues in that they spent a few years working on a specialty field but not as many years as a PHD.
      Obviously the years spent in education should add up to more pay to help cover the investment the student made in his life and financial sacrifices. But from an employer point of view will a Bachelor's degree provide the same benefit as a PHD degree'd candidate to their bottom line. In most cases the answer is yes unless the company or business is as mentioned of the type that requires staffing with PHD's or is closely aligned to the studies of the candidate.
      If your looking for research or academic career then having this credential is very useful to your career.
      Industry however, is about Return on Investment (ROI) and the young inexperienced new engineers that come off in their resume's as both smart quick learners and malleable in their expectations and interests will give the company the best chance to create a diamond in the rough so to speak with that new hire over one that just indicates having a strong educational focus.

      Regards
      Dave
       
    6. mhjones12

      mhjones12 Well-Known Member

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      Dave B,

      I’m not sure you understand my response. I’m not trying to argue that a PhD with no experience (by the way I do have experience, excluding my PhD research) should be considered equal with a B.S. or M.S. with several years of experience from the perspective of the company. I’m saying that a PhD with no experience should not be less than B.S. or M.S. with no experience. Are you saying a candidate with a B.S. in engineering with no experience is seen as better than a PhD (or an M.S.) with no experience?
       
      Last edited: Mar 16, 2013
    7. Dave B

      Dave B Active Member

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      Yes, that is what I am saying. If you have work experience as an engineer and can show accomplishments that would help, but the added post graduate work is not a plus to most companies as you have already recognized.
      Added education does not correlate to better skills in engineering judgement or in creativity to problem solving, or design skills, etc those are learned by doing.
      There are too many engineers out there that have the credentials but no talent what so ever in the practical skills that make creativity and problem solving possible.

      It may mean your are more analytically inclined which is a plus in some industries and not in others.
      It may also mean your ability to learn from research from sketchy available literature on some niche problem is high.
      These would be positives but would have to be demonstrated at the interview and in your resume with good communication skills.
       
    8. Rhadley

      Rhadley Member

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      My company in the Houston area is looking for a PHd to do FEA work. Do yo have experience like that?
       
    9. mhjones12

      mhjones12 Well-Known Member

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      Yes I have both structural and thermal FEA experience. For my design project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory I did extensive thermal and structural FEA with Pro/Mechanica. I have also worked with 3D thermal FEA code and been exposed to the equations underlying structural FEA code at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. I would be glad to discuss my experiences further and how I may be able to fulfill needs at your company. I will private message you or you can feel free to private message me or to contact me through my LinkedIn account.
       
    10. mhjones12

      mhjones12 Well-Known Member

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      Well, I'm glad national laboratories value PhD's in engineering since there are 3 within 50 miles of where I live. I was recently offered and just accepted a position at Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore CA, as a Senior R&D Systems Engineer. I have read some articles saying that there is a trend towards companies (i.e. not academia or national laboratories) wanting to hire more PhD holders for high level jobs, and I hope this trend continues. At least I hope they will eventually stop seeing the PhD as a negative. On the education side, I've also seen articles saying that PhD programs are adapting to produce students who are more desirable outside of academia. Thanks for anyone's thoughts above.
       
    11. PierArg

      PierArg Well-Known Member

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      Hi Matthew,
      i'm very happy for your new job!!!

      Congratulations
       

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