When someone is asked to describe what an engineering PhD is like,
it might not be an uncommon stereotype for the listener to imagine someone
fully immersed in a lab surrounded by equipment or sitting in front of a
computer typing code. Is this true? Well, yes, there's quite a lot of that, but
also no. Yes, engineering PhD hopefuls do spend a lot of time doing experiments
and writing codes to verify our research ideas. However, these are just two
small pieces of a very large cake. So what is an engineering PhD and why should
you do it？
First, the easy question: Why
engineering? Engineering actually originates from humans needs and desires to
develop useful tools and innovate. Nowadays, engineering is not only an
essential part of productive forces in research and manufacturing. It is also a
key player in medicine, entertainment, and even fashion, and art. Just imagine
how those aesthetic designs on your favorite dress or shirt could be realized
without textile techniques? Thus, engineers are in great demand and the job
market is huge. This means that if learning interesting, always applicable
material isn't enough for you, job security might be a really great bonus.
Now for the not-so-easy question:
Why pursue a PhD, particularly one in engineering? PhDs can take a long time,
between five years to seven on average. Typically, a PhD has been a gateway to
an academic career as a researcher or faculty at the University, which has made
it less attractive to non-academicians. However, things are rapidly changing and
the PhD has also become essential for a research position in private
In addition, following up on the
question raised above, an engineering PhD will earn you not only excellent
experimenting and coding skills, but also extensive training in critical
thinking, management skills, and communicating skills, which are all important
contributing factors for success either in academia or industry.
So, even when you think about lab
work and codes, the pivotal element of PhD training is to develop your communication
skills. In particular, you want to achieve accurate and easy-to-understand
deliveries of your expertise in a layman language. Sometimes, your ability to
do so could determine whether you could receive funding and public recognition
or that job you've got your eye on.
In sum, an engineering PhD largely
relies on the platform of a lab but is never limited to it. An engineering PhD
student is not only a lab rat or a computer geek, but also a
comprehensively-trained researcher, an independent thinker, an efficient
communicator and manager, and a person of maturity and integrity. And that
makes them pretty cool.
Therefore, before you apply to an
engineering doctoral program, ask yourself these questions: Are you passionate
about changing the world using technologies? Do you want to become a
well-trained person with great skills in manual dexterity, critical thinking,
and effective communication?
If yes, then it is time for you to
think out of the “lab” and apply to becoming an engineering PhD. Good luck!