Very terrible job advice

In 2011, I wrote a blog entry about jobs and careers. I was asked by friends to help them make a career choice. I entered college in 2010, so by 2011, they had begun to fail their classes and the chances of them earning their ideal career began to slip. So, I entered the scene to try and help them decide on a new career (read: an alternative to medicine that makes a ton of money).

However, back in 2011, a lot of the jobs that were considered “good” emphasized biotechnology and research. You can search on Google for the references (“Best Jobs 2011”). Nevertheless, the jobs listed were math intensive, but many of them required only a bachelor’s degree since those fields were dominated by computer science and engineering (specifically bio-or-chemical engineering).

The Engineer

This field was an oddity in 2011 and even now in 2014. If you don’t know, engineers have subfields within the discipline such as Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering, etc.

In contrast with the other fields, engineering needed the most updating from my original 2011 column. In 2011, I mentioned an influx of students entering the “useful” engineering fields such as bioengineering and computer engineering. How they defined “useful” is beyond me. I noticed that even with my own set of friends, many switched from civil or mechanical engineering to the “lucrative” fields.

True today as it was in 2011, a good chunk of engineers land a job straight from college. In 2013, Forbes stated that for 2012, computer and engineering fields start at least with $60,000 [2]. In reality, the people who earn those “well-paying” jobs are usually the best in their class. Of course, you hear stories of “Bill” or “Brenda” who landed those jobs with a 2.4 GPA, but those are rare exceptions that should not generalize to all engineering graduates.

In a poorly conducted sample, I asked 4 of my graduated “engineer” friends if they can confirm Forbes’ 2013 prediction for today. For most of the fields listed, they agreed that they are still in demand. However, my mechanical-engineering (M.E.) friend has a starting salary at about $46,000 with a cap at about $76,000. He admits its decent money, but the potential to grow after reaching that $76k is limited. To counter it, my M.E. friend plans to create his own startup company so he’s in charge and changing his potential earnings.

For me, a potential salary at $76k is fantastic without any post-graduate education! However, this leads to my next point…

The Graduate School

In 2011, I told prospective Ph.D. researchers that they should be volunteering in labs and, if at all possible, working a job at the same time. The job they should, ideally, be an ultimate back-up plan if their research job falls through. The science journal Nature addressed this plight by citing how Ph.D. degrees are saturating the market [1].

For 2014, graduate school education has taken a huge credibility hit and is still not perfect. The value of a Ph.D. has decreased as more and more graduates earn a Ph.D. and earn far less, or worse, fail to earn tenure. Nature (2011) addressed the problem by emphasizing how Ph.D. programs should admit less graduate students. The time devoted to a Ph.D. could be spent earning a far better and satisfying career.

Many Ph.D. graduates will tell you that nothing can replace the value of an education. They believe the intrinsic value of knowledge far exceeds any extrinsic or monetary values [3]. However, many more Ph.D. graduates will tell you that a post-doc (read: more school) and lack of tenure-paying positions make it a time consuming rewarding career [4].

To top it off, a Ph.D. is not a small degree. It’s usually the highest degree of most fields. This is one of those instances where having more education hurts you because certain jobs will assume that with your advanced degree, you expect to be paid more. In 2014, the trend is to hire and drain fresh-and-young talent and replace them. Employers pay them less and can occasionally “refresh” the stock.

During my undergraduate career, the Teaching Assistants “broke the ice” on the first day of class by asking students to state their name, year and major, and what they plan to do after graduation. Similar to hearing students state “I want to do medical school,” students stated “I want to do research and get my Ph.D. in [certain field].”

Some of my friends, and maybe some of you readers, fall into the academic trap of believing that more schooling will remedy all situations. However, I sense graduate school covers up a fear of entering the workforce. Though my target audience are prospective Ph.D. students, this column can help prospective masters or professional degree students (MBA, MPH, MD, JD, etc.).

Do not forget that graduate education does not guarantee a higher paying job. In some cases, post-secondary education in general (associates, bachelors, etc.) may be unnecessary in earning a higher wage [5]. The motto of 2014 as it was in 2011: Only take the education you need and what makes you happy.

My Take:

I decided to focus on engineering and graduate school because many people expect some form of a quick-fix-get-rich scheme. Graduate school is not a guarantee to more money, and entering the field expecting money is preparation for disappointment. Likewise, engineering, while lucrative in its prospects, is a challenging field. Most engineering students can tell you of their personal struggles just to pass a class, and the jobs they earn upon graduation symbolizes the well-deserved effort they’ve put in.

Now, there is an increasing trend to have some form of college education as a prerequisite for a job. Fittingly, certain jobs require specific degrees such as having a math-related degree for a math-heavy profession. I shouldn’t have to be the one telling you that preparation is key, but, likewise, always expect the unexpected.

Many people dream of becoming big, or at least be successful and happy. When I give people my opinions on what they should do, I can be cliché by saying, “Follow your dreams.” However, I feel that saying is incomplete and to appeal to recent graduates today, I should add: “Follow your dreams…and the money will come.”

The promise of more money is guaranteed for most jobs and careers over time, but getting recent graduates to realize this proves to be difficult. The mentality of instant money summarizes how impatient and ungrateful recent graduates have become.

I know many people who “job hop” by ditching a previous job and entering a “better paying” job. Though everyone has their reasons to want money (i.e., paying off school debts), they don’t allow the time and commitment to reach their potential, and it shows on their résumés and their lacking experience.

People like numbers. People like big numbers. People associate big numbers with better things. Notably, these people expect to be a status symbol and deserve respect. The sense of entitlement and riches prevents them from realizing that any job out of college is better than none.

For further reading:

[a] http://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/guide-students-graduate-school.aspx

[b] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/22/see-how-liberal-arts-grads-really-fare-report-examines-long-term-data#sthash.0yBWAglB.dpbs

[c] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/02/27/10-unconventional-but-very-effective-tips-for-job-seekers/

References

[1] http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v472/n7343/full/472259b.html

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/01/24/college-degrees-with-the-highest-starting-salaries-2/

[3] http://physics.wustl.edu/katz/scientist.html

[4] http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2013/03/28/advice-should-you-get-your-phd/

[5] http://www.clevelandfed.org/for_the_public/news_and_media/press_releases/2014/pr_20140210.cfm

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