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Author Topic: Deciding between MS and phD in Robotics: What career options would each open?  (Read 3957 times)

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Offline MangeTopic starter

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  I found this site while doing a bit of research on my planned post-grad work, and I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store from looking at the information available. 
  However, before I go diving into experimentation, I have a final semester of a BS in Comp Sci to finish, and thus my quandary: I've decided I want to push into robotics for my post-grad schooling.  I'm dedicated to pursuing a doctorate, and feel I can quite easily finish the 5 or 6 years of schooling.  What concerns me is that, while speaking to a friend who almost went down the path for her doctorate, she mentioned that it closes some doors for an individual as they get labelled "overqualified."  Several professors have echoed this statement, though they were in the CS field, not robotics.
  So, in the experience of board members, what prospective roles are there for an individual with either degree?  At the current age of 34, I'd hate to devote my time to a degree which will leave me middle-aged and unable to get work.  I currently have been working for 5 years as a computer programmer at a Fortune 500 company, but employers won't necessarily see that as equivalent. 
  Weighted against this is the fact I deeply desire to do original research in this field.  Quite simply, I've wanted to design new systems for robots sine I was a child.  While that may be a motivational plus, rational light makes one re-assess goals, and so I find myself coming back to the question: what type of work will be available if I do pursue a doctorate, instead of stopping at the Masters level?  Were it simply a matter of doing this for the love of learning, I'd steam right through the whole degree in a heartbeat, but I'm hesitant to believe that prospective employers would accept "Oh, I don't care if I'm overqualified, I just want to work." 
  And I know I could always get the MS, work for 5 years, and do the doctorate for personal enrichment, but I'm interested in original experimentation and theoretical work that an MS might not get me to.

Offline Admin

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I don't have an answer for you, but I do have some food for thought . . .

I applied to do a Masters in Robotics at CMU . . . they rejected me on the reason, paraphrased, that 'engineers make bad scientists, they just like to build stuff'.

So, I took the first decent job offer I got a few months after graduation. With just a bachelors. Turns out the job I got was my dream job. I got paid to do robotics research for the US government! Normally, this stuff is reserved for PhD's (I'm surrounded by them), but robotics engineers are extremely hard to come by - especially ones willing to work on a government salary. So I was in high demand.

The pay scale works like this . . .
University Research . . . paid beans and worked like a dog
Government Research . . . paid ok, easy work
Industry Research . . . paid really well, stressful deadlines on occasion

So why work at a University? Well, you get a fancy schmancy paper that says your a doctor. You also get to focus purely on science, not having to worry about profitability or the usefulness of your work for the military. And some professors even like to teach. Other Professors like the free skilled labor called Masters slaves students.

Now, I've spoken to a few people who went to earn their PhD at CMU . . . they all flatly regretted it and said 'don't do it'. They recommended Masters only, unless you want to be a professor. It's 7 years of hard work without a paycheck. You're guaranteed a job after graduation, on the assumption you didn't waste those 7 years on a useless project. You are only 'over qualified' if you want a PhD salary but don't know any more than someone with a bachelors . . . and yea, there are PhDs like that.

Now, I don't know about other schools, but CMU pays your entire tuition if you do the PhD program. But you must pay the tuition if you do the 2 year Masters program.

Now, if you decide to work for the government, you got two options . . . contractor, or Fed. Contractors get decent pay. Feds get not as good pay, but really good job stability and a nice retirement package after 20 years of service. If you choose Fed, you go on the pay scale. Higher your degree, more money you make. I did the math, and after ~30 years of working you'll make about the same no matter what degree you get (because earning a PhD is 7 years without pay). However, if you don't have a good degree, it's harder to get hired. I got hired because I got skills :P

Now, about 'engineers make bad scientists, they just like to build stuff' . . . two years after getting hired, I wrote a paper and published at the worlds largest robotics conference, ICRA. Out of 1000 papers, our team ranked #1 . . . I was first author . . . and one of the people who rejected me was there to see me pick up the award. Redemption, hehe.

Anyway, I like doing research for the government. It doesn't pay as well as industry, but I got freedom from profitability and get to build stuff (I do like to build stuff). I just don't get a fancy schmancy degree that says I know it all . . .

So . . . food for thought . . .

Offline Rbotguy

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Admin: That is really useful information, thanks! I have been working as an EE (with a bachelors from CSU Chico 8) ) for a robotics company for a dozen years now, but it's more like building RC cars than robots. I have been thinking about going back to school because I'm interested in learning more and doing some research. It sounds like I'd be much better off keeping my day job (and the paycheck) and doing the study and research on my own. I know my wife and kids would be much happier if I didn't have negative income for multiple years  ;)

Offline Admin

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There is an advantage to being at a University . . . you are surrounded by many talented individuals that can teach you things you might never learn on your own.

But you need to select a good university for this, one with an active robotics club and a dedicated center for robotics.

Plus, some people just can't motivate themselves to study boring theory if their isn't a test and grades handed out . . .

Offline MangeTopic starter

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   Admin,
  That does help a lot.  Along with the "Do you want an MS or a phD" discussions on many college's websites, and considering what I'm looking at for a GPA (3.6, but working full time along with school), I think I might need to set my sights on an MS, keep nose to grindstone, and see if I want to progress further once I get the MS.

Offline garrettg84

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Some might consider this the elephant in the room, or they might not even think this exists. PERSONAL goals - do YOU want a PhD? I am on the slow track working up to my PhD. I want it for my own reasons, not for the reason of profitability or future employment. It is just something I want to do. For me.

When an employer asks for your education, show them your masters degree if you think showing them your PhD will throw you into the overqualified bracket. My answer to this is I wouldn't have applied for the job if I thought I was overqualified.
-garrett

 


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