More debt please!
June 17, 2009 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I don't want to pursue a career in the field for which I received my degree. Help guide my search for a grad school field.

I just finished an undergrad electrical engineering degree. Recently I came to the realization that I'm just not that interested in EE (well, at the very least I'm not interested in DSP). I'd like to choose a new career path and start prepping for grad school.

Here are the paths that I have considered so far:

Urban Planning

Pros: AskMeFi actually sparked my interest in planning in a question I read a while ago. Someone said something about being interested in data/statistics and maps, which are things that interest me. As does the notion that I can work toward effecting change in an area socially, economically or environmentally. I understand that this is probably the mindset of many bright-eyed planning students for whom reality gradually sets in. Regardless, I think this is a career choice that could leave me very fulfilled.

Cons: It seems that the pay is modest. I currently owe about $40k in student loans, and I'm concerned that a planner's salary wouldn't afford me the ability to live comfortably while I'm paying off my loans. The job market is also apparently rather bleak for planning right now, although it's difficult to see what the economy will be like after two years of grad school.

Patent Law

Pros: I have the requisite engineering degree already. I can attend a less competitive school that is well known for Intellectual Property/Patent Law. I have confidence in my intellectual ability, and I think I could be a very successful law student if I was willing to put in the hours. Also, this profession has potential for better pay.

Cons: Law school is notoriously difficult, and I don't think I'd want to put in the hours necessary for success. Ambition is not a character trait of mine, and I think that the profession is loaded with ambitious people.

Engineering related to Green Energy -

Pros: This is another profession that could be very fulfilling for me in the sense that I could be bettering the world around me (pardon my naivete again). I already have an EE degree. I haven't done enough research to say, but I imagine that a Masters in a technical field would attract a somewhat generous salary. Please enlighten me if I am wrong about this.

Cons: Just a lack of information. I don't really know what kind of options are out there in Green Energy. Would I go get a masters in EE? Mechanical? Chemical? Are there any engineering programs that are specifically tailored to green energy production? Also, as mentioned above, I just didn't have that much interest in DSP engineering during school (I realized this rather late when my peers were all excited about their senior projects and I was filled with dread). However, the main turnoff for me in my EE program was...well, the digitalness of digital signal processing. I don't particularly enjoy programming or working with discrete time signals. As power engineering is focused primarily (entirely?) on analog signals, I believe this won't be a problem. Again, enlighten me if I'm wrong.

I've all but ruled out law school, but I decided to leave it in here in case any IP/Patent zealots could make a compelling case for the profession. The main purpose of this post is fact-finding. Specifically, what type of person would be a strong candidate for each of these careers? Are there any related fields that you think might spark my interest?
posted by Team of Scientists to Education (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered becoming a math teacher? There is a serious shortage across the country and some of your student loans might get forgiven if you teach. Or join the Peace Corps for a couple of years.

One of my sons is making a decent living installing solar panels, his degree is in biochemistry.

Have you ever worked with GIS? I took a course in it last year and loved it. Everyone said jobs abound, of course that was a year ago...
posted by mareli at 4:18 PM on June 17, 2009

Cornell URP and/or law.

SUNY Buffalo, same as above

VA Tech planning (in DC area)
posted by jgirl at 4:22 PM on June 17, 2009

I don't really know what kind of options are out there in Green Energy. Would I go get a masters in EE? Mechanical? Chemical? Are there any engineering programs that are specifically tailored to green energy production?

Well, "Green Energy" can mean a lot of things. If you're interested in carbon sequestration, you want to look at geophysics, chemical engineering, or petroleum engineering. For biofuels, chemical engineering is good, particularly in a program with strengths in metabolic engineering. Battery technology, you want chemistry, physics, or materials science. Solar cells: physics, materials science, or EE in a department with a strong electrophysics program. Nuclear: there are still some nuclear engineering programs around, ChemE and MechE might make sense too, and the Navy is still enthusiastically training as many nuclear engineers as it can get its hands on.

You know, now that I think about it... How about training in nuclear engineering in the Navy? Free education, and the demand is absolutely tremendous for the foreseeable future...
posted by mr_roboto at 4:24 PM on June 17, 2009

Law school is not as hard as complaining law students make it out to be. I just graduated from DePaul in Chicago, and we have a very strong IP focus. Our school has a great placement program for people with EE degrees. Everyone I know with an EE degree that graduated from DePaul is completely set. They give you a job first year with a large IP firm in the city before any grades come back. If you perform well their they'll hire you back 2nd year and then give you an offer after you graduate. Going to a lower tiered law school with an EE degree will get you a job. Whether you want to do patent law is another issue.

I did not want to do patent law, because the type of work you do, is the same type of work that made me not want to pursue further science education/work (phd ... etc). If you don't like EE work, you may not like doing patent law. You'd end up doing way more EE related things than you'd end up doing law related things. You may be able to get hired to do patent prosecution and then eventual transfer over to a litigation group, but that's not a sure thing. Just something to keep in mind.

But you can get a great IP job with an EE degree coming from pretty much any law school. If you think you want to go down the law path, don't let the "competitiveness" of law school scare you away. That crap doesn't apply to patent attorneys. You have the EE degree. Everyone else does not. You will get hired; just don't fail out.
posted by Arbac at 4:50 PM on June 17, 2009

Oh I forgot to add - you can take the patent bar now with just your EE degree and work as a patent agent for a year or 2 if you'd like. That might give you a better idea if IP law is something you'd be interested in pursuing.
posted by Arbac at 5:02 PM on June 17, 2009

Engineering related to Green Energy - [...] I imagine that a Masters in a technical field would attract a somewhat generous salary. Please enlighten me if I am wrong about this.

Pay is strongly correlated with the perceived ethics of the employer. From Disciplined Minds
"Robert H Frank, a Cornell University economics professor, tried to find out exactly how much compensation people deemed sufficient for making this sacrifice. He surveyed graduating seniors at his university and found, for example, that the typical student would rather work as an advertising copywriter for the American Cancer Society than as an advertising copywriter for Camel Cigarettes, and would want a salary 50% higher to do it for the cigarettes company. The typical student would want conscience money, amounting to a 17% salary boost, to work as an accountant for a large petrochemical company, instead of doing the same job for a large art museum. Indeed employers who are seen as less socially responsible do have to pay a moral reservation premium to get the workers they want. FRANK FOUND THAT MEN ARE MORE LIKELY THAN WOMEN TO SELL OUT, AND THIS ACCOUNTS FOR AT LEAST PART OF THE GAP BETWEEN EQUAL MEN AND WOMEN."
Personally.. Well, I've got a Masters in Control Systems, and I've chosen not to pursue employment in my field; but I have great enthusiasm for Electrical Engineering, so maybe my story isn't that relevant.
posted by Chuckles at 5:43 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sorry for the all caps section at the end there.. The excerpt was emphasized for use in a completely different conversation :)
posted by Chuckles at 5:44 PM on June 17, 2009

Response by poster: These answers have been great. Keep 'em coming.

I have looked into the Peace Corps, and I may still give it a shot, but I'm afraid my limited volunteering experience may limit my chances. I hear their applications are way up. It seems many are taking their joblessness and focusing it into volunteer work.

I was not aware that someone with an EE degree could take the patent bar. This is interesting. Could you point me to any more information on patent agents (i.e., what type of work would I be doing, who typically hires patent agents, etc.)?
posted by Team of Scientists at 6:13 PM on June 17, 2009

Nuclear energy is super-green. In my field, there are many with an undergraduate degree in EE. MeMail me if you'd like my advice on Nuclear Engineering graduate programs.
posted by derogatorysphinx at 6:19 PM on June 17, 2009

If you're tempted to go into law, look into the patent bar first. Law school is a huge money drain (though your EE program was almost certainly more difficult, academically) and only the very top students/schools have a quick path to solvency. Even if you decide to go the whole JD route, you'll be more likely to be among the very top students (and/or at one of the very top schools) with some patent experience under your belt.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:06 PM on June 17, 2009

As a patent agent you'd basically do the same thing as a patent attorney. You'd file and prosecute patents with the USPTO. You'd draft patents, you'd give advise on technical matters to the attorney's before they go to litigation. You'd advise people on the patentability of their inventions. Basically the only thing a patent attorney can do that a patent agent cannot, is an attorney can go to court, can practice other types of law as well, and a patent attorney can give an opinion on whether an opposing party's patent is valid. As a patent agent you can't give opinions on opposing party's patents.

You would most likely work for a law firm. Lots of large firms and smaller IP shops hire patent agents and technical advisers. You could also work for the USPTO as a patent examiner, but I hear that's a really boring job. Check out the USPTO site for more information.

I can't give more technical information about what specifically you'd do as an EE patent agent since my science background is in neuroscience, but maybe someone else on here can chime in with more information.

Definitely consider going the patent agent route before going to law school. That way you can see if you enjoy it. Plus, I know a lot of people who worked for firms as patent agents, and then had their firms pay for them to attend law school part-time. Makes things cheaper all around!
posted by Arbac at 9:28 PM on June 17, 2009

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