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choosing the right degree for research career?

PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2016 12:11 am
by YAG
I used to be a chemical engineer for a bad company that treats its employees very poorly. Ever since leaving that place, I've been trying to transition in to the tech industry, because it's where all the new, and exciting stuff happens. I'm particularly interested in battery technology, because I believe renewable energy is very important, and energy storage technology is the bottleneck right now, but it's gaining more and more traction in the tech industry, so getting the skillset and know-how in device manufacturing, particularly batteries, will probably be more and more valuable (at least that's what I think). Right now, my ambition is to work in research and development that helps improve energy storage technology in companies like tesla, intel, samsung, panasonic, etc.

I have a BS in chemical engineering, and I have the opportunity to join a pretty good chemistry department, doing research for a professor in chemical engineering. If I go, I would be on the path to a MS in chemistry, but the professor wants me to do super awesome and have me go straight into a PhD. (I didn't apply to chemistry, I applied to Materials S&E, but they won't let me in for stupid reasons, so professor wants to pull strings to get me in the chemistry department)

Sorry for the long background, but here are my questions:

What types of research jobs can one find with a BS ChE and MS Chemistry? How will they differ from a Chemistry PhD or ChE PhD? I've been told that PhD is usually necessary to have a better career long term, but there are research jobs out there that are Masters level, and the degree shouldn't matter more than experience, or does it?...

In terms of graduate degrees, I've been told that a ChE will have more merit than chemistry. I mean you see it with BS level jobs, where engineers get to be project managers, and chemists get to run QC procedures all day long, even though from an experience standpoint, all new graduates pretty much start from square one. Will this hold true, somewhat true, not really, for graduate level positions?

Re: choosing the right degree for research career?

PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2016 3:11 pm
by Rich Lemert
The opportunities to direct research are limited in both chemistry and chemical engineering unless you have a PhD. The best you can expect in either field is to be something like a lab manager, running the day-to-day details but not setting the overall agenda for the program. It is possible to move beyond this, but only after gaining extensive experience.

The one exception to this is when you run plant-scale process improvement tests, but these aren't really what most people consider 'research'. It's really a 'process engineer' role.

The main differences between the two fields is in the number of opportunities available at every level. Chemists generally wind up in routine jobs (technicians and the like) at the undergrad level, or research scientists at the PhD level. Chemical engineers might also go into production management, process engineering, design, ... .

At the PhD level there is often a lot of overlap between the two fields, so that depending on your specific research field which degree you get is generally more a matter of convenience. I received my PhD in chemical engineering - but did my post-doc in a chemistry group. A former colleague is a chemical engineering professor - but his doctorate is in chemistry. You don't lose the engineering background just because you get a higher-level degree, and it's more important how your background fits the employer's needs.

Re: choosing the right degree for research career?

PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2016 9:36 pm
by P.C.
Your best choice would be to totally avoid the PhD route,
and pick degrees with state regulated licenses , specifically,
Nursing, Medical degrees, Engineering,
Phds have very little value in the Usa unless you are in a program in the higher echelon like Harvard, Stanford ...
The over population of Phd programs is abysmally out of control and way out of synch with actual job market forces.

Re: choosing the right degree for research career?

PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2016 4:56 pm
by RGM
Do yourself a favor and don't get a PhD, you will be less marketable.

There are more positions available for BS/MS people at least in the biological sciences than for a PhD.

IF you want to run a lab, then you will need a PhD.

If your goal is to learn business, move up in a company, leave the bench etc, stick w/a BS, MS is not needed, and work there a few years, taking on more responsibility, earn your MBA along the way if you like.

You will be in a much better position later in life, than if you get a PhD generally speaking.

Re: choosing the right degree for research career?

PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2016 10:08 pm
by YAG
as I've said, I have a chemical engineering degree. the purpose of the chemistry MS is to get experience in device manufacturing, so that I can have prospects in the tech industry.

After one year, if I do well, there may be opportunity to gain support from the professor and be able to join the MSE or ChE department for the MS. My main question is will the chemistry, MSE or ChE MS add much value to my resume?

if so, then I'll take the offer, and start in the fall, possibly summer, and spend the next two years studying, working in the lab, and try to get internships, with the possibility of transitioning into a PhD.

if not, how can I better market myself to integrate into the tech industry and start working again?