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PhD worth it in my 30's?


SuperjetMatt
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Some background on me: I am a married father of three boys, ages 3-9. I hold a BS in Electrical Engineering that took me 7 years to obtain. (Just graduated last May)

I started out in 2001 with an AAS degree, then slowly (SLOOOOWLY) worked on my BSEE.

I have since then started grad school to get an MSEE and have successfully obtained an EIT license (Engineer in training, pre-cursor to PE).

Up until very recently, I had thought that I would continue my education towards a PhD in EE after the Masters is finished.

Now I am not so sure. I am 32 now, and I'll be 33, maybe 34 when I get the Masters. At that time, I may be able to obtain my PE.

A PhD would likely take another 5 years. I would be almost 40 years old.

 

My goal is to work in research, be it government funded research (National Labs) or in private industry. Teaching is not my goal.

My problem is that my current job (really, much of my employment history) is not in Electrical Engineering.

I got a job in technical writing right out of college in 2001 and stuck with it. Now, a lot of this employment history was related to instrumentation, systems engineering, maintenance & reliability, and so forth.

Still, I am not confident that I could call any of it "Engineering". And now I make $72k/yr and support my family on that. I would like to ease into a real engineering job with my BSEE or possibly my MSEE in the future.

Without doing some post-doc research, would a PhD be of any real value to me? Post-doc research seems to pay very little. I can't really afford to take a job paying much less than what I make now.

I would love the accomplishment and personal satisfaction from obtaining the degree, but I wonder if it would help me out professionally.

 

Any advice?

Thanks.

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If you budgeted some of your salary to pay for a PhD, and you could afford to discipline yourself and your family members to tighten their belts to shoulder the budget cuts, you would eventually reap the reward of increased income relative to your expenses when your degree got paid-off, assuming your salary level remained the same.

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WIth a 72k/year salary, and I'm assuming you're actually working years (not being laid off, looking for another job, working three months of that year), then I don't think I would bother with a Ph.D (if it were me). The master's degree isn't such a bad thing, as bachelors are becoming worthless. I don't know if the Ph.D would really open that many more doors, at least to jobs with as great a salary. Actually, if I had a wife who didn't have much of an education or salary and I was in your situation, I would try persuading her to start up the education. Two money makers makes for great financial stability.

 

I think you need to go find some engineers with Ph.Ds (maybe find others who are pursuing Ph.Ds), and start talking to them about the state of the market, the state of technology, what the past, present, and future will be like engineers in your situation who are thinking about obtaining a Ph.D. Basically, take what you've said here and bounce that off of them. So, I suggest networking quite quickly and attempting to get as much intel as possible.

 

Maybe try going around on online engineering forums and trying there, too.

 

Another thing, I've often held the belief that it's easiest for parents to go to school when their kids enter the school system. So, when your youngest child starts entering kindergarten, then I suspect you'll have a lot more time to work with academia than if you started right now.

Edited by Genecks
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The key question is whether you are really fascinated with the problems of EE and want to explore them at a higher level, living with your intellect engaged in issues you cannot now creatively address. If you feel that need, then you will know that you HAVE to go for the Ph.D. degree. Jobs, money, and other such pragmatic issues are small compared to the needs of the human intellect for stimulation. If the practical issues are manageable for you and wouldn't totally disrupt your income security and family life (and I assume they are, given your state of planning), then I would recommend that you follow the most advanced educational route open to you. Families can be demanding and distracting, but since most Ph.D. students have a campus office, designated lab space, or extended library access, just make sure that you can focus on your work and not waste the opportunity.

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WIth a 72k/year salary, and I'm assuming you're actually working years (not being laid off, looking for another job, working three months of that year), then I don't think I would bother with a Ph.D (if it were me). The master's degree isn't such a bad thing, as bachelors are becoming worthless. I don't know if the Ph.D would really open that many more doors, at least to jobs with as great a salary. Actually, if I had a wife who didn't have much of an education or salary and I was in your situation, I would try persuading her to start up the education. Two money makers makes for great financial stability.

 

I think you need to go find some engineers with Ph.Ds (maybe find others who are pursuing Ph.Ds), and start talking to them about the state of the market, the state of technology, what the past, present, and future will be like engineers in your situation who are thinking about obtaining a Ph.D. Basically, take what you've said here and bounce that off of them. So, I suggest networking quite quickly and attempting to get as much intel as possible.

 

Maybe try going around on online engineering forums and trying there, too.

 

Another thing, I've often held the belief that it's easiest for parents to go to school when their kids enter the school system. So, when your youngest child starts entering kindergarten, then I suspect you'll have a lot more time to work with academia than if you started right now.

 

 

My wife actually started working on an undergrad degree TODAY. :)

My ultimate goal for a PhD would be a career as a research geek. It isn't necessarily money, but that would certainly be welcome.

 

The key question is whether you are really fascinated with the problems of EE and want to explore them at a higher level, living with your intellect engaged in issues you cannot now creatively address. If you feel that need, then you will know that you HAVE to go for the Ph.D. degree. Jobs, money, and other such pragmatic issues are small compared to the needs of the human intellect for stimulation. If the practical issues are manageable for you and wouldn't totally disrupt your income security and family life (and I assume they are, given your state of planning), then I would recommend that you follow the most advanced educational route open to you. Families can be demanding and distracting, but since most Ph.D. students have a campus office, designated lab space, or extended library access, just make sure that you can focus on your work and not waste the opportunity.

 

I can answer with absolute conviction that I am indeed fascinated with EE problems. I often spend my idle time contemplating various EE/Physics problems. I find it mentally stimulating and exciting.

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Eh, for a research position it is really risky, unless you are well connected. There are not that many research positions available. Truth is that most lab research is done by grad students or postdocs. And the letter only for a limited time (I have seen quite a few engineers without postdocs). Other than that in many jobs you would be more group/ lab leader (i.e. being removed from research) but these positions are usually very competitive. There are also industrial R&D positions, though but apparently the job pool is kind of limited, at least in areas I am familiar with. If you are well connected, it may be worth a try, or at least ask around to look, what kind of positions are really available. Otherwise you may be set yourself to be overqualified for the job you got right now and not be competitive enough compared to the fresh 20-something PhDs (unless your current job gives you some kind of edge, however the edge may be considered dulled after a PhD hiatus).

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IMO work experiences counts more than university degrees. Your time could be better spent searching for a better position rather than getting a PhD (and then spend more time looking for a position). I have seen people struggling for years to get a PhD, coping with family problems etc, and then still unable to find a good suitable position. If I was a commercial (not academic) employer I would employ the most experienced applicant, and not the most well-qualified. Having said that, it is what matters to you individually that is important. If you think that the satisfaction of getting a PhD is worth the expense, trouble and lost income, then it is OK. And age has nothing to do with it.

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Probably career wise you may find multiple Masters to be more useful than a PhD, but at the stage you are at you probably don't really know how things will pan out, get the Masters out of the way first. You may yet decide that academia suits you (or not).

As a side note as to whether it is worth it, people with PhDs live longer on average ;)

An interesting read on this is Michael Marmot's The Status Syndrome.

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I am not sure why people regard studying for a Ph.D. 'trouble.' Learning things, especially learning new things at higher and higher levels, is a positive pleasure. While the downside of some learning programs is their cost, often in science fields there is sufficient grant money available that money is not a problem.

 

Where does all this careerism come from? For much of the nineteenth century there was little or no connection between university studies and jobs, so of those who attended, most left without bothering to get a degree. It was the experience of learning that was the whole value for these people, and it still can be today.

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IMO work experiences counts more than university degrees. Your time could be better spent searching for a better position rather than getting a PhD (and then spend more time looking for a position). I have seen people struggling for years to get a PhD, coping with family problems etc, and then still unable to find a good suitable position. If I was a commercial (not academic) employer I would employ the most experienced applicant, and not the most well-qualified. Having said that, it is what matters to you individually that is important. If you think that the satisfaction of getting a PhD is worth the expense, trouble and lost income, then it is OK. And age has nothing to do with it.

 

Excellent points.

I will admit that I am "stuck" in my current job not just for the money. It is a job with A LOT of down time. It allows me to do all of my school work on the job. (Anyone having a problem with this, my boss is okay with it. It's somewhat work related and makes me look busy)

I want out of the job because it's boring. At the same time, the job market for engineers seems to be a bit thin right now, especially since I am "just out of school", but have a 10 year work history. Or is that a good thing? I don't know.

And again, the current job is excellent for time-managing getting my Masters.

 

I am not sure why people regard studying for a Ph.D. 'trouble.' Learning things, especially learning new things at higher and higher levels, is a positive pleasure. While the downside of some learning programs is their cost, often in science fields there is sufficient grant money available that money is not a problem.

 

Where does all this careerism come from? For much of the nineteenth century there was little or no connection between university studies and jobs, so of those who attended, most left without bothering to get a degree. It was the experience of learning that was the whole value for these people, and it still can be today.

 

 

I love learning. I have been going to school just about non-stop my entire life and can't quite imagine life without it.

 

 

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