Hi all, I'm new to the forum so bear with me if my forum etiquette is a bit off.
I've been struggling with the idea of doing a PhD. One local university in Singapore has recently launched an initiative to start a petroleum engineering programme. I've been in talks with the professor in charge as well as a professor in a university in the UK to work out a joint PhD collaboration between the two schools. So far, this is going well and my application is almost done.
By the time I start the programme, I would have 4.5 years of work experience as a mechanical engineer in the oil industry (take note, not petroleum engineer).
From what I have read in most posts in the forum regarding PhD vs work, I have seen a lot of advice for work. Most of these are based on the premise that the person seeking advice is progressing into PhD right after their undergraduate degree. Some of the problems highlighted with pursuing this track is the inability to secure jobs after graduation due to the lack of work experience.
So I'd like to make a small request for all you veterans to assess the pros and cons my post-PhD continuition of a non-academic career in a different field of work within the same industry (petroleum engineering instead of mechanical engineering).
I'm sure your views will be immensely helpful and I look forward to a healthy discussion.
I started my PhD after 4 years of work, I did it because I'm an ecologist and ecology jobs at the time were all very temporary. I saw my PhD advertised and fell in love with the topic and still love it now - at the end. So if you think you will enjoy your PhD do it for that reason. What are your career aspirations? Academic jobs are in general hard to come by! But I don't know Singapore or the engineering area very well, so it might be there are lots of academic jobs for engineers. Petroleum engineers are going to be in demand for a long while yet too, so you will find work in that field easily I'm sure.
I wasn't earning very much prior to the PhD - I was doing ecology work, but through an agency so it wasn't very well paid. But it was still a bit of a drop to the stipend, but it's enough to live on, and there are lots of others doing the same. I moved a long way to start my PhD and so that was my bigger worry (my partner couldn't move jobs at that point and it took him a year to be able to join me and I was a long way from family and friends). But I don't regret any of it, I've had a great time and learned so much.
It sounds like it's a good career move for you to have a PhD, and remember in petroleum you will get paid loads more than any other scientist ever will so you will make up for the lack of earnings during studying quickly I'm sure! I will never earn very much as no one wants to pay ecologists, but I'm happy I did my PhD because I wanted to do it for myself.
I'm from Aberdeen so I have a lot of friends in the oil industry, all of them earn at least 4 times what I will ever earn and own their own homes (something I could never have done in Aberdeen due to the huge house prices). I know it's on a downturn at the moment but no one I know has lost their job so far and the industry has it's ups and downs but it always comes through so it will pick up again soon enough I'm sure. But you're right while it's down-turning is probably a good time to study so you come back to it with good prospects =)
I opted to leave my job after 5 years to take up a PhD, basically because I wanted a new challenge. The PhD provided me with that challenge, to contribute something new and original to my chosen field.
I'd had the idea for a while, however, opted to enter the jobs market after graduation as after a few years of undergrad then masters I needed a break. My plan was to return after a year, but circumstances meant this became 5 years (failed applications plus finding time to apply). I eventually succeeded via speculative applications to a few Universities and there was a project that suited me.
Generally, my PhD experience was good, with a knowledgeable primary supervisor. As with all academics, he was a little eccentric but that is par for the course. It was also useful having my predecessor on the project around, but this was not a situation I abused. After four years, I passed with minor corrections.
I then did two post-docs, one good, one not so good. After the second post-doc, that's when I had difficulties. Put simply, I and others have found selling ourselves with a PhD risks us being seen as "overqualified" or "likely to move on as soon as something better comes along". Also, people with PhDs are perceived as not being target driven and more dismissive of deadlines. How to overcome this depends upon the individual's ability to sell themselves, however, being interviewed in the first place can itself be a challenge (i.e. deprioritising education on your CV, targeting your skills - both PhD and non-PhD - to the job your after, etc.).
If you aim to stay in academia, be also aware there is an oversupply of PhDs to available positions, so that in itself is a hard sell.
I don't regret doing a PhD and would do the same if I had my time over again, but problems are there to be encountered
Have a look at my blog on PhDs for more information.
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