Ph.D. versus industry

The next big step in choosing a career path

I feel déjà vu: a French expression commonly used to express familiarity. As my junior year progresses, I’ve come across a familiar feeling—one of being at a crossroads. The last time I felt this way was four years ago, as a junior in high school, deciding my future college and career. I was fortunate enough to pick both a school and major I have grown to love, but another turning point in my life has surfaced and yet again I must make a decision: graduate school or industry?

As a materials engineer, I work in a field that features both science and engineering. Although it may seem narrow, specific to one aspect of engineering, it actually spans across all engineering fields, as well as science fields like physics and chemistry. The curriculum focuses on understanding all aspects of materials: mechanical and electrical properties, kinetics, thermodynamics, synthesis and processes, materials selection, and more. These courses review the properties that differentiate materials and why they behave the way they do, as well as how materials may be processed and applied to engineering. Overall, a materials graduate has options, and options mean decisions.

My options include academia and industry. Academia means furthering my scientific knowledge of materials in an environment I am familiar with, while industry means throwing myself in a new setting and testing my skills. Considering the pros of each option, academia will enrich my education and make me more appealing to industry down the road. It will also feed my curiosity and willingness to learn. On the other hand, industry will teach me about business, and creating tangible, significant results. It will allow me to apply what I’ve learned and take a much-needed break from student life.

There is something to be said about a change of pace. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I find excitement in moving forward, changing my scenery, and accepting a new challenge. That’s how I felt about college, at least, coming to RPI from New York City. I could satisfy this feeling by either option: getting a master’s degree or Ph.D. at a different university, or working at a company. However, regardless of where I go, a student’s lifestyle has little variety. Industry, on the other hand, offers a new community altogether.

Neither path hinders pursuit in the other—so my consequences are low. I may pursue graduate school after working at a company or work at a company, after graduate school. This question of where to go after graduation probably stumps many of us. Ultimately, it’s important to remember what will improve your quality of life and happiness without costing too much. For the time being, I’ve settled on pursuing a job in industry. Where will I go after industry? I’ll answer that when I feel my next déjà vu.