Monday, December 10, 2012

MEP Alum Debunks Myths About Graduate School

Nate Curtis received his Ph.D in Electrical Engineering from Penn State in 2009 and now works for Northrop Grumman Corporation in Baltimore, MD.  On November 30, 2012 Nate spoke to a room full of Engineering Graduate students about the transition from Graduate School to Industry.  Below are a list of the myths that he discussed in his speech.

The Office of Engineering Diversity holds monthly Graduate Luncheons for all Multicultural Graduate Students.  Keep an eye on your email for the meetings during the Spring Semester!


MYTH: My advanced degree puts me in a position where I am too qualified to find a job.

TRUTH: The truth is your advanced degree makes you highly sought after by organizations looking for your particular set of skills. If you should decide to get a PhD in Astrophysics and then  try to find a job at Papa John’s, then ok, yeah I’d say you might be over qualified and it’d be hard to find a job/get paid a salary commensurate with your degree level.


MYTH: Once I get my PhD I’m set. Smooth sailing from here on out, Baby!

TRUTH: The truth is once you obtain your PhD you’ll probably work harder than you’ve ever worked before. The hardest problems that require the most time and energy are saved up for individuals with your skill set. People know that if you have the fortitude to get a PhD in engineering, then you have the stick-to-itiveness and focus required to tackle any challenge. Relax. They’re going to pay you for it too.


MYTH: I'm an Electrical Engineer. I’ve always been an Electrical Engineer. I’ll always only be an Electrical Engineer.
TRUTH: The truth is by the time your successful career in industry is over you’ll have worn so many hats you’ll probably feel like you got degrees in everything from Mechanical Engineering to International Business. The bottom line is in industry the goal is to make money. Companies make money by producing a product. Not by catering to employees preferences. No one cares if you only really want to do one thing the rest of your life. If that is the case then industry is probably not the best choice. You should expect to get a wide range of projects and opportunities to solve problems which in turn require a wide range of skill sets. Some you’ll have a base for already and some you won’t but will develop because you’re young, smart, quick, and adaptable. You make mom so proud! You’re like the hottest thing smokin!


MYTH: Once I get my job I’ll be able to spend as much time working on my projects as I want. Just like when I was in school doing research.

TRUTH: The truth is as a higher degreed employee you’ll likely have many projects to work on at once. Some with hard deadlines, some without. But like we already mentioned the goal is to make money. Money isn’t made by letting deadlines slip and overspending on projects. As such, you likely will not have nearly as much time as you would like to work on various aspects of different projects. You’ll have to act with a sense of urgency on everything that comes across your desk realizing that if you can get it done faster and more efficiently, it saves the company $$$. You will also likely be ranked on how well you can manage this. At my company we often talk about the 80% solution. This solution is good enough to meet requirements and we like it because we didn’t waste time and money trying to squeeze that last 20% out of the problem to perfect it. If you can navigate under this frame of thought, you will likely do well. So excited for you!!

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