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View Full Version : why oh why did i go to grad school???



miner_engineer
04-12-2005, 12:42 AM
I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering. Both degrees obtained from one of the finest engineering schools in the midwest. When I graduated with my BS in 2000, the economy was great and engineers were stepping out with big salaries and bonuses. I thought I would be all the better if I stuck around to get my Masters Degree. What an idiot I was!! George Dubya got elected and the engineering job market went to hell in a handbasket in the amount of time I could say 'strategery.' Since grad school, I have had one full time job. I had to leave that position because my husband found a decent job (he's a computer scientist) in another city. My old job was crap really - it didn't require an engineering degree but after a year of job searching, it was the best I could find. Now that we have moved, I can't even get a job at Wal-Mart. All the retail stores seem to laugh at the idea than an educated engineer would even give them an application!!! I try to explain that I am dependable and that I will show up to work on time everyday and give 100% but somehow they seem to prefer the hassle of dealing with a purple-haired, tongue-pierced, meth junkie who won't 'leave soon at the first sign of a better job.' Doesn't everyone leave wal-mart or home depot if they were offered a job at 4 - 6 times their salary? If I am willing to work hard for them, what does it matter if I am educated? Companies looking for engineers won't hire me - too many 'gaps.' Yeah, like the gaps where I COULDN'T find a job!!! Do HR people miss the fundamental concept of vicious circle?? I have some experience since I took several co-op positions while in college so I thought that would help. But, since my last job was little more than CAD work, most companies seeking engineers see it as no experience. I have found that if you have any type of engineering degree it is 'use-it-or-lose-it' and the shelf life is very short. So, it almost seems like all that education (for which I am in debt up to my eyeballs) is gone by the age of 29. What happened? I am stuck in limbo between being grossly overqualified for Wal-Mart and under-experienced for anything that is remotely close to engineering. I left college, happy, successful, married and well liked by peers and professors. I can totally relate to the quarter life crisis. I liked designing websites so I am trying to re-educate myself and perhaps expand my 'skill set.' Isn't that a cute little HR phrase... skill set... like I can just buy a new or expanded 'skill set' because the one that cost my tens of thousands of dollars and years of life to acquire just isn't good enough. Anywho, back to my story. I look back at the smart, ambitious, focused, determined young girl just out of high school and I think where in hell did she go? Have you looked back on your life and thought, 'Wow, I would have never guessed in a million years that this would be my life at this age'? What else is there to do but get up, dust myself off, and try again.

UNEMPLOYED ENGINEER - WILL WORK FOR EPIPHANY!!

winneythepooh7
04-12-2005, 06:37 AM
I understand exactly what you are saying. My field especially sucks. I meet a lot of people contemplating getting their Master's in my field and while I think it is necessary and wonderful I will be the first to tell them that EVERYONE gets their Master's nowadays in my field so thus, the job search gets even harder. Case in point, they have been looking to fill the other SW position at my job since OCTOBER of 2004. They are only planning to offer the position to someone THIS THURSDAY. That's for 2 reasons. 1.)lack of funding so make me do double the work to save $$$$$ and 2.)there are so many MSW's applying, the agency can have their pick of who they want to hire. I really can't offer any magical words of advice, except to hang in there. Something's gotta give eventually.

lilyflower
04-12-2005, 08:04 AM
You know, it completely sucks to say this, but my field is the same way. Unless you want to go into academia in science, you need to have some sort of experience to get hired anywhere and it seems that's it's impossible to GET that experience unless you go straight after undergrad. From what I've heard it's very hard to break into industry with an advanced degree and no experience (unless you have some amazing thesis/publications under your belt).

Temping is always an option to increase your experience. Don't get me wrong, temping sucks royally but it seems to be the only way sometimes to get that vital experience to land that elusive perm job in your field. Good luck!

winneythepooh7
04-12-2005, 09:10 AM
A word to the wise: Take a few years off to work BEFORE going to grad school. You will have a bit easier time of finding a job that way.

steph78
04-12-2005, 10:26 AM
Hey miner engineer - just wanted to let you know you are not alone out there! I was in the exact same boat as you - even down to the same timeframe. I also graduated from undergrad in 2000 also and turned down great job offers to go to grad school, only to find out that there were barely any jobs available once I got out of grad school. Of all the people who graduated from my program at the same time as me (from the #4 school in the country in my field), only ONE had a job lined up as of graduation day. I went months with no job at all and my savings were depleting fast - I was so depressed and felt worthless because no one wanted to hire me. Not a good time.

Here's how I got the job I have today - I finally put my pride aside and begged one of the big prestigious structural firms in town to let me work on a temporary basis for just hourly wages, no benefits. They couldn't afford to hire a permanent employee at the time the way the economy was going, but they were willing to let me work on a month-by-month basis for low wages. This worked out well for them because they were getting really cheap work from someone with a master's degree, and well for me because I was getting some real experience and enough income to pay the bills while I kept interviewing elsewhere. Granted, I got stuck doing CAD work at first and not much actual design work, but they let me do more and more stuff the longer I stayed. After the better part of a year at this temporary situation I finally got an offer from another company who decided that I had enough "experience" to be worth hiring permanently, so I finally got the salary I went through grad school hoping to get.

So anyway, don't get too down on yourself - it's hard out there but you worked hard in school and I think you CAN eventually find a job in your field, just maybe not as easily as in 2000. :) Good luck!

edit - oh yeah, lilyflower was totally on the ball with the temping idea, sorry I didn't read carefully until after I wrote this!

miner_engineer
04-12-2005, 10:35 AM
A word to the wise: Take a few years off to work BEFORE going to grad school. You will have a bit easier time of finding a job that way.

Yep, I now agree that people should work first. I got advice both ways some saying go now to grad school and get it over with and other say to wait. Some told me that if I wait I will never go back. If only I had been so lucky!! So for all those deciding on what to do for grad school - save your money!!! I don't know what other fields are like, but in engineering, graduate schools are FILLED with foreign nationals. I had classes where I was not only the lone girl but I was the ONLY one who spoke English as a native language, including the professor!!! The professor and I were the only American citizens in the whole class! I felt I was in another country and in a wierd way I was. At the time I wondered why there weren't more American citizens in the fields of engineering, particularly in the graduate level. Now I see why - we don't really reward that level of scholastic achievement in this country. Why should we go to grad school and bust our asses only to walk out with a bunch of debt and a crappy job, if we are lucky!!! Many of my fellow classmates went back to India or China and I will probably end up talking to them one day when my computer or washing machine breaks down and I have to call tech support for assistance. Thanks for all the support from everyone!! We'll all hang in there!

steph78
04-12-2005, 11:15 AM
Oh, I know what you mean about the international students. It was totally like that where i went to grad school also. My worst nightmare was group projects and presentations - while everyone always worked really hard on the project, when it came time for the presentation, they were all like "well, Stephanie is the only one who speaks good English, so we'll let her be in charge of the presentation"...and then every time the professor would ask a question during/after our presentation they just all kind of stepped back and left me hanging up there to answer it. Good times...

You know what, though - all those international students are pretty freaking smart. They had a lot of competition to get into a good school here, so they are really the cream of the crop. I mean, I was a good student, but even though I was keeping up with the class material and getting good grades, these people would ask questions in class all the time that were WAY over my head. It made me feel pretty slow.

GetMeOuttaDC
04-12-2005, 11:42 AM
can I just say - I am not in your field but still - I graduated in 2001, with little job prospects on the horizon. I was forced to settle for a job and a city I highly dislike (in a field I thought I wanted, but now dislike). I was really jealous of my friends who had graduated in 2000 with the world at their feet.

today? getting a nice job out of college and keeping it for maybe a year hasn't helped them either... unless they got very lucky, they are either in my position (doing something they don;t like) or waiting tables. at least you spent that time getting a masters, in the long run it will benefit you more than a year at some cool job.

I gotta agree with Lily though that you should try temping. It's my personal opinion that the wal-mart people won't hire you not because you're overqualified, but because they're jealous of you.

lilyflower
04-12-2005, 12:13 PM
I gotta agree with Lily though that you should try temping. It's my personal opinion that the wal-mart people won't hire you not because you're overqualified, but because they're jealous of you.

Oh my god YES! I experienced that firsthand when I WORKED at Wal-Mart at the beginning of college. My co-workers/bosses/etc deliberately gave me the WORST possible assignments (like manning the snack bar - alone when I was supposed to be a cashier) because I was going to college full-time for a science degree. A lot of the people who work at a place like Wal-mart, have little to no education (some don't even have a high school diploma) and will ALWAYS end up working for Wal-Mart (or a similar crap job) so seeing you with your degrees is extremely threatening to them (particularly because most of them dream of moving into some kind of management position someday and you're more qualified for it than they are).

So yeah, don't do Wal-Mart. Temp. I couldn't get anything before my temp job and after five months there the offers started pouring in - most of them were for better temp jobs, but there was also my current job. Actually, the week I accepted this I had to turn down three OTHER jobs. Temping is SERIOUSLY the way to get your foot in the door.

GetMeOuttaDC
04-12-2005, 01:00 PM
I think all retail stores are like that... I worked at a clothing store in high school and a week into it, got accepted to an ivy league school - bam! the manager was suddenly explaining to everyone that I was "slow". I know someone who got fired from her job at a vitamin store when they found out she'd enrolled in college courses.

lilyflower
04-12-2005, 02:44 PM
I think all retail stores are like that... I worked at a clothing store in high school and a week into it, got accepted to an ivy league school - bam! the manager was suddenly explaining to everyone that I was "slow". I know someone who got fired from her job at a vitamin store when they found out she'd enrolled in college courses.

Fired? Damn. That's a new one. Although I did get treated really crappily at every retail and grocery store job I had once word got out about me. I had coworkers that knew me somehow beforehand (or saw my name in the paper for honor roll, dean's list, etc) and would happily chat away at how smart I was.

miner_engineer
04-12-2005, 02:47 PM
Thanks all for the advice! steph78 - glad to hear I am not the only one. Yeah, grad school was a trip. I can totally relate to being in a group of people and being the only one to speak english. Yep, guess who wrote the papers?!?!? I met some really cool people. My opinion is that if they worked as hard as I did and earned their way there then they have just as much right to be there as I do. My biggest question was not WHY ARE THEY THERE rather WHY AREN'T MORE AMERICANS here? What is it about engineering that lures people from particularly China and India yet very few American citiizens were interested. Just an interesting observation given all the recent discussions about exporting technical jobs overseas.

One other point... what exactly did everyone do to get a temp job? Most places I look only want full time and they are very specific about what they want. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks everyone!

lilyflower
04-12-2005, 02:52 PM
One other point... what exactly did everyone do to get a temp job? Most places I look only want full time and they are very specific about what they want. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks everyone!

Most temps are contracted through a temp agency - NOT the company itself directly. Most of the agencies have postings on their websites, check out Manpower, Kelly or Yoh. to name but a few

pisces2473
04-12-2005, 04:12 PM
Fired? Damn. That's a new one. Although I did get treated really crappily at every retail and grocery store job I had once word got out about me. I had coworkers that knew me somehow beforehand (or saw my name in the paper for honor roll, dean's list, etc) and would happily chat away at how smart I was.
It's because they know you won't stick around...because you have more to your life than a shitty grocery store job or whatever...and they are stuck there for life.

steph78
04-12-2005, 04:45 PM
One other point... what exactly did everyone do to get a temp job? Most places I look only want full time and they are very specific about what they want. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks everyone!

Well, if the temp agencies don't pan out, you could always just approach a company and straight up offer to work on a temporary basis if they won't hire you for a permanent position. Find a company that does what you really want to do, explain how qualified you are (education, other background) and if they can't hire you permanently would they consider taking you on temporarily so you can gain experience and hopefully you can help them out at what is a bargain rate for them? If you phrase it like that it probably seems more attractive for them.

The way mine happened, I sent my resume out looking for a permanent job and got a response saying I looked like a really qualified candidate and they were very interested but they just couldn't AFFORD/COMMIT to hiring another employee, so I called them on that and offered my temporary solution and got called in for an interview that very week, then started the week after that. They did pay me about $18-19 an hour if I recall, which is really great for temp work! Just no benefits. They also let me work as many hours as I wanted to because they had all these projects where they were screwed on deadline and needed as much drafting help as they could get.

lilyflower
04-12-2005, 06:14 PM
It's because they know you won't stick around...because you have more to your life than a shitty grocery store job or whatever...and they are stuck there for life.

Yup and when I figured that out and fled for a job as a unit secretary in a hosptial things got a LOT better. :)

MollyMe
04-12-2005, 07:06 PM
From my experience, international students in graduate engineering programs are not that bright: book smarts and street smarts.
The American engineers are getting MBA's.
I thought about grad school after my undergrad. I am also an engineer. I heard much of the same stuff you did. I realized I hated research and wanted to work in industry so I dropped the grad school idea. Most large companies will pay for masters anyway.

It might be the case that most companies don't want to pay you the rate for the MS degree when the work can be done by a BS.

labrat2111
04-12-2005, 10:19 PM
Yeah I passed up a good job back in 1999 to go to grad school and after all is said and done it was in no way worth it. I found out I really don't like research and to top it all off I probably won't end up getting my MS after all my exertion. I think about that decision and sometimes I still feel a tinge of regret because I could have been making 40K and maybe lived with my parents for 2 years (the job was a 45 minute commute from my parents place) and in that time I could have gotten a new car, paid off my student loans and bought a house. Instead I'm 29 and stuck in a crappy job/apt. with my old car and student loans at 14K still.

It just is not worth the additional time for me to finish my MS when it really won't help me now -- like somebody said about companies having to pay me more for an MS. The only way it might help if my job was in that very specific area of research which is unlikely. If you're going to be an academic or researcher or your field very strongly requires a grad degree for even entry level jobs then by all means go but otherwise it's better to get into the work force and get your experience and figure out what you really want to do once you're experienced post-college life. Usually later then your company will pay for most or all of an MS or MBA.

Deadend
04-13-2005, 01:07 AM
Hey Miner Engineer!:

First of all I'd like to say that I'm absolutely thrilled you've joined the boards. I myself am about 3 weeks away from starting my 4th year of an engineering degree (at 24 - repeated 2nd year twice), and am absolutely busting my ass as hard as I can (aside from posting on this board....) in order to *maybe* make grad school an option.

So all this is golden advice. I did work with an eng. pHd last summer, and his advice was to work for a company with my undergrad, and weasel my way into having them actually pay for grad school. Good life if you can get it I suppose.

I am doing my undergrad at what is recognized as the best engineering school in Canada. I'm hoping that will get me into a few places, but I'm trying to get some contingency plans regardless. Possibly (at last resort) even joining the army... (which is a differant proposition in Canada than the US - entirely).

Anyways, about foriegn grad students. Our programs are loaded with them here too. Getting a TA that is fluent in english is a godsend. I'm also quite aware of the fact that not only does the government not pay for foreign students (doubling their tuition at least), but in fact the schools make a very fat profit on what they charge them (hence motivating them to take as few Canadian students as possible). Ya, I've got my problems with it..... is it the same in the US for engineering graduate programs?

Oh, nearly forgot. The other plan was to look for work up north. WAYYYYY up north. Like in the arctic. Tons of mining ect. there and they pay ALOT just to get you interested in subjecting yourself to the climate. How much mining is there in St. Louis? (I'm assuming not much). Would you be willing to do something like that? Even if for short term?