Ideas for postgrad programs for an engineer?
April 20, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of postgraduate programs could you recommend for an out-of-the-box mechanical engineer who wants to make a lot of money?

I received a BA in English, MBA in finance, and a BS in mechanical engineering (in that order). I'm trying to figure out what to do next--if anything. I enjoy engineering, and I luckily have a job--but I don't like my job most of the time, and feel the company treats its engineers rather poorly. I think they do this BECAUSE the economy is in the crapper and it's not like we can just walk out and find another job that easily. I'm looking for a new skill, certification, and/or body of knowledge that will set me apart.

So I'm thinking ahead. I'm trying to come up with some ideas of future education I may pursue that meets the following:
1) High demand for people in that field.
2) Good-to-high pay (at least $100,000 per year) on graduation.
3) Allows me to keep my day job as an engineer while in school.
4) Would allow me to stay in Los Angeles (or commute to surrounding areas for said program).

I'd be flexible with number 3 above if the probable payoff would make it logical to leave my current job. And as I said, I'm looking ahead. I'd like to make a good amount of money to support my family (a lot of money would be even better).

I've considered law school (particularly patent law), but that would take another fours years and a fair amount of money. There are many part time programs in the LA area, but I'm looking for something in the 2 year or less range. I've also considered something like biomedical physics. High demand and high pay, but I'd likely have to leave my current job (since it's a full-time program, and it'd likely be difficult to get my work and school schedules to mesh). I'm not in the financial position that I could leave my job for a couple of years. That would be very difficult.

So throw out some ideas. Maybe you know of some obscure program that most people don't even know about; let me know! Thanks so much for your help.
posted by rybreadmed to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I really don't have any suggestions, other than going on a management track with your company. Why stay just an Engineer if you have an MBA?
posted by spacefire at 6:57 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: Possibly a design course/certificate? Not sure what type of mechE you are, but I'm thinking product design, user interface design, manufacturing. Might not satisfy your pay criterion, but I think it could be beneficial in the workforce. Then again, I'm only a bioengineer...
posted by dormouse at 7:24 PM on April 20, 2009

Response by poster: It's a small company with no room built in for upward mobility. And right now, I'm holding onto my job as many around me are being laid off. The MBA makes no difference--at this place or any right now. Forget the MBA; employers don't care about it at all.
posted by rybreadmed at 7:25 PM on April 20, 2009

Well, I was going to suggest an MBA actually but I see you already have one. Was it from a top business school?
posted by atrazine at 9:27 PM on April 20, 2009

Ok, if your current employer doesn't care about your MBA it implies this degree isn't applicable to your job. It seems like you've got to make a choice between hands on Engineering or Engineering Management. The latter would more than likely give you the headroom in terms of money that you seek, but I'm not sure if you're willing to change that drastically.

But to that end, educationally, the best thing I could suggest would be a DBA. While studying or shortly thereafter you'd probably be able to move more into Engineering Management.


Time: a full on DBA will take more than two years. You might be able to find a University that would help you compress the time line, giving you credit for prior coursework. So you could conceivably augment your Finance MBA with more management focused classes - e.g., Human Resources, Leadership, etc - that you might not have either taken nor appreciated while in your original Masters program. In the UK we've got valid Postgraduate qualifications as part of a Masters program. Effectively these are milestones, but sometimes folks don't take a full Masters rather pursue these intermediate qualifications due to time or funding constraints, and these degrees are recognised in the jobs market. In some cases people change Universities and are granted one of these qualifications to reflect time & effort. I did this myself, changing Universities due to time constraints (was taking my MBA part time and while working that is way tough), picked up a PgDP Management from my original University and I'm completing my MBA at a second so this might work.

Money: on the surface I'd suspect we'd be close, solely based on the theory that Managers are paid more as they are responsible for the output of many. But you'd have to look closer at this yourself, as you've got the specific domain knowledge. Of course, we're ignoring both funding and opportunity costs of acquiring the advanced degree(s). Perhaps you can get your current employer to pay, perhaps even partially. But that brings up the third issue

Confidentially: when I started my MBA it didn't go over well with my employer at the time (a ratings agency) as career mobility is markedly increased pretty much anytime one moves up the educational ladder. I genuinely had no desire to change jobs, but from the point I asked for funding (and was declined), I was a marked man in that firm. Might not want to tell current employer precisely what you're up to in this regard.

Hope this helps!
posted by Mutant at 11:46 PM on April 20, 2009

Best answer: This query already got an 'answer' but IMHO I think you have enough education for now - three degrees, two of them directly relevant to the workforce (MBA, MechEng) one less so (english) but still leverageable.

Honestly I think what you need is not another degree but work experience. Try to maneuver your way in your company into relevant, challenging work, be it on the engineering or business side. Learn as much as you can and go from there. When the economy picks up you can then either demand a higher raise from your current employer because of your then enhanced skills or else market them elsewhere.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 11:47 PM on April 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

... and an extra comment: entry-level engineering, which it sounds like you are working in now, is indeed tough. Hard work, low pay. But then again that's probably true of any entry-level job. If you got yet another degree or certificate, methinks you'd still be in the same boat.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 11:50 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Breaking into management is tricky—the people I've seen work their way into management tend to be simultaneously socially inert (agreeable) yet also social butterflies (excellent conversationalists, easy to talk to, etc.) They tend to get their work done with a minimum of questions ("they're so smart!"), usually on-time ("they're so reliable!"). They love meetings.

Engineers tend to be pretty-much the opposite: they're principled (disagreeable), eschew ass-patting ("networking"), ask tons of questions and invariably deliver more than they are asked, but later than they'd hoped. Meetings mean less time doing/making things.

If you're tired of being in category 2, but don't feel category 1 suits you, you could always try and start your own business. Your CV reads like an entrepreneur; have you ever thought of starting your own business?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:32 AM on April 21, 2009

It seems to be time to stop school and start work. Graduate school in engineering is not going to increase your pay very much per se, although it can make you more knowledgeable and thus perhaps more successful. Engineering is a great profession but unless you move into management it is inherently unstable and subject to fluctuations in the economy. Also, when you reach late middle age you get replaced by some young engineer making half your salary. You have an MBA, I suggest that you use it to find a job in management.

Patent lawyers are still in very high demand. You will easily make more than $100,000 coming out of school, you would still be involved in the technology and if management is not your thing you can still be successful in the field all the way to retirement.
posted by caddis at 4:06 AM on April 21, 2009

... sorry that I can't shut up :) but yet another comment - there's nothing stopping you from *learning* on your own, outside of school - which, we're all told, is an essential activity for any field. If I recall my university courses, basically all you're doing is going through a book (a text book). Yes, reading a book on your own isn't the same thing as taking a course, but it's more inexpensive for one thing. If you discern that your career ought to go in a particular direction (like if you aspired to management for example) then there's nothing stopping you from getting relevant literature and going through it on your own, outside of a structured classroom setting.

I digress, but I admit that being in an educational environment can be stimulating. There are many people who, when exposed to that environment, get addicted to the stimulation and then end up taking course after course, and degree after degree. They eventually 'drown' in post-secondary education, with many years of education without a coherent, central plan of where they want to be at the end.

IMHO I think you need to ask yourself if you fit into that category - I see three very different degrees (english, finance, engineering). I don't know what led into your decisions to move from field to field, but it seems that this same mechanism is still operating - following a path, then at the end point of the path, you call into question what you just did, and decide to take another different path.

I'll repeat again my comments (sorry I can't shut up), but I think a few years of work where you are now, will help you milk your present environment: learn as much as you can where you are, and while doing so, contemplate what direction you see yourself going (or not going).

But ditto to some of the other comments - I doubt any entry level job, which it seems where you're at in your career, is going to pay $100,000 per year.

Sorry for rambling.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:06 AM on April 21, 2009

Response by poster: This is all great info. Work lately has been lacking in excitement and mental stimulation. I suppose if I muscle through, keep my head down, my mouth shut, and learn what I can (and suffer the mind-numb), I can do well in the future. For now, it's low pay and high frustration. And I can learn stuff on my own--that's quite true. There was nothing that could have stopped me from learning everything in school on my own; all that school provided was a professor to basically deliver the content in a more manageable format, as well as the motivation to stay on task and keep myself disciplined enough to finish.

I do like the idea of being an entrepreneur, but that's a huge life-change--high risk, unknown payoffs. I suppose I should learn what I can about the area I'd consider starting my own business in. Not too keen on getting a PhD in management, but the idea is a good one--perhaps later on at a different stage in my life.

Thanks all!
posted by rybreadmed at 9:18 PM on April 21, 2009

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