Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Industrial engagement

    Posted 04-26-2019 07:30 AM

    I am doing my PhD at University of Surrey, UK in civil engineering department (Geotechnical Engineering). I am looking forward to work in the industry for solving challenging problems in United States. Is it difficult to obtain a job in the US if your PhD is from a non-US university? Can anyone share their experience if anyone had the same career trajectory!!!

    University of Surrey

  • 2.  RE: Industrial engagement

    Posted 04-29-2019 02:30 PM
    Hi Piyush,

    I think the short answer is the classic engineering answer: it depends. There are many factors in play, of which only one is having a British PhD and then moving into US industry.

    I was raised in the US and completed my undergraduate here before doing a doctorate in Oxford. Afterwards, I returned to the US and I'm now working for a consulting firm here, working on bridge design. Here are some things I observe as I look back at the process:

    1. There's a good chance your employer in the US would be looking for you to obtain your PE license, which is the American version of chartership. To do so, you will need to look up the requirements, which are state-by-state but typically require some combination of (1) graduation from an accredited undergrad program (2) successful passing of the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FE), which many people take right before graduation, (3) work experience under supervision of a PE, and (4) completion of the PE Exam. You could easily expect to do the experience and PE exam while working in the US, but if you haven't done the other two items, you'll have to look into alternative requirements (e.g. states that will accept, say, 10 years experience instead of the undergrad program). If you have a plan nominally figured out before talking to potential employers, you'll look much better than if you haven't researched it.

    2. If you're applying for 'typical' engineering consulting jobs, be prepared for your employer to be less interested with your doctorate than any internship/work experience you have. I've been down that track and it's unfortunate, but that's business. Most employers are looking for entry-level hires who can readily use US design codes to do 'simple' designs. Time is money: it's better to churn out an overly conservative design that takes 4 hours than an FEM model that takes 3 days. I struggle with this sometimes - I love knowing the 'exact' answer, but it's not always what's required. Thus, unless your doctorate is exactly what your employer is looking for, it would serve well to be able to say you have some design or field-related experience.

    3. Then there's the typical job market factors... visa situation (a company will have to sponsor your work visa; it may, unfortunately, make a difference what your citizenship is), your willingness to live in a 'random' location or relocate down the road, your willingness to take on work you hadn't previously considered, your willingness to work for X company when you want to work for Y, your willingness to accept certain levels of benefits (salary/vacation/family leave/etc)... you get the idea. In this area, I lucked out - I was recommended by a friend already in the company.

    Ultimately, it can be quite challenging getting a first job in any market, let alone a foreign country. Who you know - your network - makes a big difference. Some of the above could be difficult to overcome, but there are ways to make it happen. Remember, Rome wasn't built overnight, and neither will your career. One option could be getting a job in the UK and then transferring to the US (in the same company or different) after you've built some experience/chartership. Another option could be talking to people you've met at conferences and seeing if they have any contacts in the US who could arrange an interview.

    So, in short, it may be difficult for you to find a job here, but definitely not impossible. It may take some perseverance - being an advocate for yourself and your skillset, cultivating industry relationships, researching your options, and applying to a lot of companies - but if you want it, you can definitely do it with effort and patience. Good luck!

    Dr Daniel Claff EI, A.M.ASCE
    South Orange NJ