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#1 Green0603

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 04:09 PM

Hi, I recently started checking out engineer boards (love it here) and could use some advice, please.

I'm a senior graduating in May with a focus in transportation and geotech. I was under the impression that I would have a research position if I stayed here for grad school; I just found out that I was admitted but did not get the position, and therefore no finical aid.

Could I get some real-world input on how much an MS is or isn't worth it? Specifically with getting a job, keeping a job, and salary.
I could take out more loans, but that will put me in the triple digits in debt by the time I'm done, doesn't seem wise.
I could work a few years and then go back once I have the funds, but I've heard it's difficult to get back into the school mindset.
Or I could start on the professional track and never look back. This one worries me, I think a lot of new civil engineers are getting their master's these days (at least looking at my school); I don't want to be working at a firm when I'm 30 and feeling regretful when the new hires have the education I never got.

I had a public works internship last summer, a traffic internship in the fall, and I will be interning for a large multidisciplinary firm this summer (in hindsight, should have been looking for a full-time position after graduation, but fortunately this company tends to hire their interns immediately after). I just took the FE, and my GPA is solid but not outstanding. Essentially, I'm not too worried about not finding a first job and needing to go to grad school as the alternative, but I do realize it's tough out there.

I'd appreciate any advice on this. I'm pretty flustered right now since for the past year I've been thinking I'd be in grad school, and now it's all turned upside-down. I just want to make sure I make the right decision. Thanks in advance!

#2 ksprayberry

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 05:27 PM

I'm a mechanical engineer, I graduated in 1997 and went back to school in 2007 to get my Master's degree, however; I did not get a Master's in Engineering I went for an MBA. I kind of felt that being in the industry I'm in (HVAC) a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering really wouldn't do me any good unless I wanted to be in research and development or teaching. Maybe I copped out, but my thinking was that the MBA would give me more versatility and would help me in a sense be more "recession proof" over someone with equivalent engineering skills. I could go more places with a MBA and an Engineering degree. At this point I can't really say if having my MBA helped me or not. My boss left right after I graduated, so I am now the Inside Sales Manager where I work. If I didn't have the newly minted MBA, I'm not sure if I would have been considered or not.
I don't know that I've helped, but going back to school wasn't so difficult. It took me about a semester to readjust to school life. I went in the afternoons after work. It was tough taking time from my family, but I think it was worth it.

Thanks
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#3 Krakosky

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 05:59 PM

I graduated in 2005 with my BS in Mechanical Engineering. At the time I was having a hard time finding a job and was all set to start on my master's degree. I ended up finding a job and chose to start my career instead. I worked for about a year and then began working on my master's degree. I'm glad I waited bc the company I worked for paid for most of it (the managers really pushed people to get advanced degrees whether it be an MS or MBA). I completely changed the program I wanted to do. I switched from ME - Design to CE - Structural. Anyways, to make a long story short, it has helped me to get promotions and jobs. I would recommend getting it but think it would be best to start your career first. I did mine thru USC's online program and it was super convenient. There are many schools that offer online programs which cater to working professionals. I work as an ME but I assume it would be a similar advantage to a CE as well. I have a friend who is a CE (structural) and he said he got his to be more competitive.

#4 bradlelf

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 12:06 PM

Green,

I am a civil engineer who went through the same decision as you eight years ago. I graduated in 2004 and had a partial ride for a Masters, which I probably could have negotiated to a full ride since the school I was looking at for a masters really wanted american born TA's. I chose to start my career instead of getting my masters. And yes I just entered by 30's for reference.

You have to weigh you options here. I have a BSCE with a specialization in traffic/transportation engineering, however I do land development work. Although to be fair if we had had a hydrology/hydraulic focus option for my degree I would have chosen that. Nonetheless, if your career path choice is doing land development a master degree will get you nothing extra. I know plenty of engineers with masters that cant design themselves out of a box. When you get into the consulting business how you preform is more important then the type of degree you have. The PE after your name means more than any degree. I even do expert testimony for civil litigation and I can tell you that I have run against people with Masters, PHDs, dual licenses and held my ground and the cases were won on my sealed opinion reports.

I chose to start my career, buy a house, get married and start my family ... all of which happened in the first 2-3 years after I graduated with my BS. I came out of school making roughly $50K before overtime (which was great before my first company took it away :)). Would I make up that $100K which I lost in salary for the two years I would have been in master school in additional earnings ... no, not in my line of work.

This all comes down to what you want to have as a career. Do you want to do land development consulting? Do you want to teach? Do you want to be the sole "reference" engineer for some manufacturing company? You need to think about what is right for you from a long term career objective standpoint and make a decision based upon that.

NCEES has already changed the model law that starting in 2020 a MSCE will be required to sit for the license exam. Do i think your potential 8 years of experience will be better than a kid out of school with a MSCE ... absolutely.

Edited by bradlelf, 19 April 2012 - 12:07 PM.


#5 YMZ PE

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 06:00 AM

Quoth Big Bang Theory:

Wolowitz: "I have a master's degree!"
Gablehauser: "Who doesn't?"

What bradelf said is true - there are plenty of engineers with lots of education yet no common sense. It's better to be practical. What's even better is to be practical AND highly educated - especially since more and more good engineers are also choosing to get their MS. In the not-so-distant future, as research continues to advance and be applied to everyday engineering tasks, a BS won't cut it anymore. Unless you're planning to work in land development or on small residential projects - but even then, you'll be applying codes based on new research that you might not understand. There those kids fresh out of grad school are going to have an edge over you.

That said, I firmly believe it's never too late to go back to school. And if your GPA isn't outstanding, as you said, work experience might make you a more desirable candidate. My undergrad GPA was terrible, but I was able to get a full ride to the top grad school in my discipline after working a couple years and developing a network. Having a degree (and connections) from that school has kept me in high demand.

Green, you seem pretty sharp and have a great resume already. Whatever you choose, things will turn out fine.

#6 bradlelf

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 04:15 PM

Hokie? ... Now I have lost all respect for you. HAHAHA, Joking.

#7 Green0603

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Posted 20 April 2012 - 10:48 PM

Thank you for all your responses.

I see that having a Master's is variable, it might make a big difference or it might make no difference.
Ideally, I want to go into roadway design and construction; I'll start researching that career path and see how vital an MS is.
I like that so many of you were able to get the education paid for, I didn't realize that was so common, it's encouraging.

I'm going to start talking to professors and see if there's any research or teaching assistants that have somehow not yet been filled. I'll also see if my internship is a good fit for my first full-time job. I have until July to make a decision, I'll keep weighing my options until then. Thanks for all the advice.

#8 bradlelf

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 04:20 PM

Green,

I have done heavy highway design/construction inspection down to low volume access drives. If you have a good solid foundation from a highway design perspective you should be fine. You should check out a good small highway engineering firm to get some valuable experience ... make sure they have a mentor program for young engineers. I was very blessed to have a great mentor out of college, it will be very important to your growth professionally.

What states are you looking in?

#9 bradlelf

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 04:22 PM

I should revise that ... when I said small highway engineering firm, I should have said small office. I know a couple international companies that have small regional offices which create the same environment. I personally would not have learn as much if I was trying to navigate through a large company/office.

#10 YMZ PE

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 05:00 PM

Has anyone gotten their MS only to find out it didn't benefit their career?

#11 AVAaznfan89

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Posted 24 April 2012 - 02:56 AM

I am also in the same situation as well.

I am graduating with my civil engineering degree in May and my concentration is in Transportation as well. I have been working as an undergraduate research assistant studying mobility and reliability on highways. My professor and the grad students that I work with have been pushing me to go to grad school. I talked to one of my professors about grad school and he told me just go with your gut feeling. My gut feeling is telling me to get the experience first and then decide whether to go back. But my problem is I am still looking for jobs, and I've already had a couple of interviews. Should I pursue a masters if I can't a job over the summer?

#12 cdcengineer

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 09:34 PM

School sucks! Get a job and get paid to learn.

#13 Jayman_PE

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Posted 25 April 2012 - 10:26 PM

Hi Green,

I would suggest if you are still single go ahead and work toward your MSCE. I earned mine in 2004. I can't say that it's made a massive difference but it really helps in small things - like 6 years ago when a land development company I worked for had to cut jobs and before deciding who to drop they revisited each individuals resume and work performance with a fine tooth comb (I was told this later by someone in upper management). Anyway when the dust cleared I still had a job while many others did not. Additionally I decided to work as a college and high school tutor part-time for about two years. Just to make extra money to pay my school loans off. Having the Master's Degree made it child's play to get that job. I got the job virtually no questions asked. Lastly, it has also aided me in my current job when it comes to things like asking for reimbursement for books, soSucks!are, etc. Bottom line - it has made life easier. I firmly believe a Master's Degree is an indicator of someone who has a high upside to them. Sort of a litmus test of your character and ability to see things through. Of course nothing substitutes for practical experience and proficiency. You still have to prove yourself, over and over, as I find each day. But you can, and you will.

The only caveat I would say is make sure you get a Teaching Assistantship or Graduate Research Assistantship and get the free ride, or at least a vast majority of it covered. No sense in burying yourself further in debt (if you are already). If your current school shuts the door on you look at others. There are a lot of good graduate schools out there.


All the best,
Jason

#14 Green0603

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 04:45 AM

Hi All,
Thanks for the continued advice, I've been following along and keeping everything in mind.
There has been a fortunate change in my situation; I was offered a TA position (an option I hadn't really considered but think will suit me), which will allow me the tuition waiver. I think it would be a mistake to pass up this opportunity, so I am now planning on starting grad school in the fall.

@bradlef, I would like to work in the Midwest, ideally stay in Illinois, but I'm willing to go where the jobs are. Could you elaborate on your suggestion to "find a small highway engineering firm to get some valuable experience?" I have been in the mindset that it would be best to take a job with a large, well-known firm right out of college, so that when looking for the next job a couple years down the road, my resume would have more credibility. Thoughts?

#15 Jayman_PE

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 06:00 PM

Green,

Bradlef is 100% correct. A smaller firm typically allows you to get better range of experience than a larger one. It's easy to get lost in the crowd with a larger firm. A smaller firm has a lot of upside - more one on one mentoring, for example. It is vital to learn from a "grey hair," observe how they think, learn the language of the profession, observe them in conversations with clients, co-workers. I worked for a small county highway department in Minnesota and a small land development firm (total office staff was about 10) before college and during college summers and it has made a world of difference for me. Ten years later I still have those connections and always know they are a phone call away if I need to bounce ideas off someone. They are also life long friends.

Since you are in line for the TA position I would definitely pull the trigger on your Grad School opportunity. You will be glad you did.


All the best,
Jason

#16 YMZ PE

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Posted 28 April 2012 - 09:18 PM

Green,

Bradlef is 100% correct. A smaller firm typically allows you to get better range of experience than a larger one. It's easy to get lost in the crowd with a larger firm.


I need to qualify this. It really depends on the office you're working in and who's managing you, if you're part of a larger firm. Smaller firms often don't get as wide a variety of projects, nor do they tend to manage large projects where there are many different engineering aspects to tackle. When I worked for a large private firm, I was fortunate that my boss was cool and the office used to be a small firm before they were bought out, so they still had the "small firm" mentality.
I worked with several principals with different areas of expertise, on both big and small projects around the world, and was exposed to a lot of different types of problems and different ways to approach them.

Of course, there's a very good chance that if you work for a large firm, your boss might not have your best interests in mind and simply pigeonhole you to maximize the bottom line. Again, it depends on who you're working for. But I wouldn't rule out large firms if you find one with a good office manager.

#17 ptatohed

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Posted 02 May 2012 - 07:57 PM

I actually agree with cdc (post #13). I started working at an engineering firm when I was still in high school (starting off with errands, copying, filing, etc.). I slowly made my way into the design division. By my early/mid 20s I was drafting, design drafting, designing, etc. Because I had a decent job and worked (typically 30 hours per week min), it took me forever to graduate college (BS) since I only went to school part time. I didn't graduate until 29. Anyway, my point is, I had such a hard time enjoying school. I so much more enjoyed my "real life" engineering learning. School (like the PE exam too, actually) felt so textbook to me and had very little relevance to the real engineering world (my opinion, of course). I struggled through just because 'I had too' but I couldn't wait to get out and focus on my career 100%. I think I ended up with a 2.8 GPA. :( I sure as heck wasn't going to ever go to school again. My old boss had his PE but no BS (you can do that in CA) and he was one of the best engineers I have ever met. Good work ethic, intelligence, common sense, experience, motivation, etc............ and of course........... your PE will take you so much further than a Masters (in my opinion). My vote is spend all the time and dedication you'd have spent on getting a Masters and put it toward your current career (and save the money). But of course, you need to decide what's best for you. Good luck.

#18 Jayman_PE

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Posted 03 May 2012 - 08:41 PM


Green,

Bradlef is 100% correct. A smaller firm typically allows you to get better range of experience than a larger one. It's easy to get lost in the crowd with a larger firm.


Of course, there's a very good chance that if you work for a large firm, your boss might not have your best interests in mind and simply pigeonhole you to maximize the bottom line. Again, it depends on who you're working for. But I wouldn't rule out large firms if you find one with a good office manager.


I agree there can be very good opportunities with larger firms. But I tend to view things with what is the most probable outcome? Obviously there is no way anyone can know from a mere interview, or two, or three, etc. if they will work under a good engineer. Maybe the best advice is to ask someone who works on the floor so to speak. People who have no gain or loss by you working there, whether it be a friend, classmate, etc. But from my own experience I have found that a small office is much better to start out in. More 1 on 1. And sometimes being less formalized helps too.

Jason

#19 Jayman_PE

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 03:02 AM

I actually agree with cdc (post #13). I started working at an engineering firm when I was still in high school (starting off with errands, copying, filing, etc.). I slowly made my way into the design division. By my early/mid 20s I was drafting, design drafting, designing, etc. Because I had a decent job and worked (typically 30 hours per week min), it took me forever to graduate college (BS) since I only went to school part time. I didn't graduate until 29. Anyway, my point is, I had such a hard time enjoying school. I so much more enjoyed my "real life" engineering learning. School (like the PE exam too, actually) felt so textbook to me and had very little relevance to the real engineering world (my opinion, of course). I struggled through just because 'I had too' but I couldn't wait to get out and focus on my career 100%. I think I ended up with a 2.8 GPA. :( I sure as heck wasn't going to ever go to school again. My old boss had his PE but no BS (you can do that in CA) and he was one of the best engineers I have ever met. Good work ethic, intelligence, common sense, experience, motivation, etc............ and of course........... your PE will take you so much further than a Masters (in my opinion). My vote is spend all the time and dedication you'd have spent on getting a Masters and put it toward your current career (and save the money). But of course, you need to decide what's best for you. Good luck.


Again, it just depends on each individual's situation. The path you chose worked very well for you. It may not have worked for another. One of the reason's I chose grad school over returning to the workforce after my Bachelor's was 1. I had about 4 years experience before going to college, and 2. All things considered experience is relatively easy to acquire. I maintain that selective employers seek candidiates that can offer something more than they themselves can. In others words they want someone who can offer an edge over their competitors workforce. Hiring someone who had the same education they did 20-30 years ago does not appeal as much as someone who went a step further. I did not consider this until two Vice President's of different companies told me this almost verbatim over the last two years.

In light of the economy Grad school might not be a bad idea. That's just my .02. Only the individual knows what's best for them.

Jason

Edited by Jayman_10x, 04 May 2012 - 03:04 AM.


#20 Lucky1

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 11:41 AM

Another option is getting a masters in a different engineering field than your bachelors. For example, a bachelors in civil and a masters in petroleum or an electrical-mechanical combination could only help make you more diversified and open up more opportunities. Granted there might be a few more prerequisites when crossing over between disciplines but in the end this kind of masters degree not only shows you are motivated but have the ability to adapt and are fluent in a wider range of topics/industries than a candidate with a masters that matches their bachelors discipline.

Anyone with any real life examples of this?

#21 Krakosky

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 11:54 AM

I got my BS is mechanical and my MS in civil with a concentration in structural. I've only worked in the mechanical field (aerospace and automotive industries) but the MS did help me get the current job I have and transfer from doing design work to stress analysis.

Edited by Krakosky, 07 May 2012 - 11:55 AM.


#22 YMZ PE

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 01:35 PM

^ You changed your title! Nice!
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#23 Krakosky

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 02:22 PM

Yep. Might as well display it loud and proud. Lol.

#24 MA_PE

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 03:03 PM

Yep. Might as well display it loud and proud. Lol.

well then....let's see it.
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