Engineering PhDs: More than the “Lab”

指南者教育 2015-02-28

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 industries.


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!