Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Masters Degree

    Posted 02-28-2019 08:45 PM
    Currently, I am working towards my undergrad as a civil engineer. I am trying to decided what to look to do after I graduate. A part of me wants to get a job, and get into the workforce. However, if I want to be a structural engineer, chances are that I will need to get a masters eventually, and there are some really nice master's programs that I am interested in. Recently, I have been thinking that if a company is willing to help pay for a masters, I will definitely get it right away. Although, even if this is not the case, I think I would be better off without a break between schools and getting my masters right away. I guess my question to all of you is if I am offered a job around graduation time, how do I know, or choose, between that job, or obtaining a masters degree (if they do help fiance further education). I would really appreciate any feedback, or advice that anyone has on this topic.

    Joshua Sims S.M.ASCE
    Falls Church VA

  • 2.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-01-2019 08:25 AM
    When you interview for your job, learn who you will be working under.  As an EIT you need to work under a PE for 4 years.  If you like the PE you will be working under and if the PE is dedicated to teaching you the practice, that is more valuable than any grad program.  You do not need to have a Masters to practice structural, not all of your grad classes will be structural.  The only disadvantage to learning under a specific engineer is that you may be limited in your knowledge based on their field of expertise.  Grad school will help you become more well-rounded.  You also want a job where you jump right into design calculations.  You will not learn much simply compiling specifications.

    Chad Morrison
    Greenville RI
    (401)231-4870 EXT 2207

  • 3.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-01-2019 08:26 AM
    Hi Joshua,

    First off, there's a similar post that I would recommend looking at. I've linked it below.

    The decision between grad school and a job right out of school is a tricky one and there's really no right answer as it depends on what you're looking to do. For structural engineering, if you're looking to work for a large/international firm, most of them will require a masters degree before hiring you. This is pretty much because most ungrad program do not expose students to dynamics, advanced material topics, earthquake design, etc. So if you're looking at a large firm I might suggest going straight onto grad school or at least reaching out to the people making the hiring decisions for the firms you're looking at and finding out if they require a masters.

    A lot of firms do provide financial assistance with a masters degree, but this is generally after you've been working for them for a certain amount of time and must be obtained part time while working at least part time - in a lot of cases full time. So where a normal masters degree is somewhere between 1.5 years and 2 years long depending on the program and research, doing it on a companies dime may take 3-5 years as you're only taking 1-2 courses a semester.

    With this topic since there's not really a right answer, there's also not a wrong one. I would recommend evaluating what kind of structural engineering work you're looking to do, what firms offer that work, and what their hiring requirements are. If you're finding that the work you want to do doesn't really require a masters than going straight into the job force would most likely give you great exposure in the industry and a leg up if you ever did decide to get your masters. Similarly if the work you want to do really requires a masters it probably makes sense to get it right away.

    Hope this helps!

    Taygra Longstaff
    Boston MA

  • 4.  RE: Masters Degree
    Best Answer

    Posted 03-01-2019 08:28 AM

    There are generally two schools of thought on this, each with pros and cons. The schools are split between getting the masters now versus getting experience first.

    Get the Masters now:
        Some companies won't look at you for a structural position without a masters degree. Companies understand that structural engineering tends to be more involved theoretically and more, higher level, calculation intensive. This is especially true when you start looking at seismic loading, etc. There are definitely jobs out there but a masters degree will definitely make you more competitive. 
       Another major point for getting the masters now is that you are already in "school mode". Once you get out in the workforce your daily life will be far different and many people get out of the habit of studying, doing homework, etc. Along with this, once you start working it is easy to just keep pushing off going back to get the degree. It is too easy to find another project that will consume your time. Some people manage this well, some do not.

    Work a few years then get a Masters degree:
       The major pro of this argument is that having a base knowledge in the industry helps you understand the theory much better. For example, you probably designed concrete members in a concrete class, you probably even used ACI to work with. But most times (I can't say for your program) those classes don't talk about where those loads come from. Most engineers I come across never used ASCE 7 to develop wind or seismic loads in school. Working in the industry you will be working with experienced engineers who, if they are good mentors, will teaching how the applicable theories apply to what you are designing. You obviously won't get the depth of knowledge you will by taking graduate-level courses but you get a base of practical knowledge. 
        Along with that practical design experience, and as a bit of an aside, field knowledge of how a building actually goes together in invaluable as an engineer. Going from tying rebar and pouring concrete to designing concrete has made me a far better engineer.

    In the end, you have to know yourself and weigh the options. My opinion would be to finish the masters now but look for an internship where you can start getting that experience. You can learn a lot in a summer internship (is that having your cake and eating it too?)

    Hope this helps. I look forward to other wiser opinions.

    Joseph Brejda
    Pond & Company
    Norcross GA

  • 5.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-01-2019 10:15 AM
    ​Hi Joshua,

    This is a common case for most structural engineers, and although I am in the transportation discipline, I would suggest that you speak to companies and ask them about tuition reimbursement programs. Most companies nowadays recognize the need of their engineering workforce for further/continuing education. So during interviews, job fairs, or simple inquiry emails would not be hurtful if you are already interested in some companies.

    Additionally, it may also be of your benefit asking if most engineers in that specific company do have master's degrees. While it is common for structural engineers to pursue graduate school, it may not be the case for some firms. Hope this helps!

    Harsh Patel A.M.ASCE
    Plainfield IL

  • 6.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-01-2019 10:22 AM

    There is not a right or wrong way to approach your choice.  Feel out the environment by communicating with potential employers about how they will fund or support the next step of your education. I got my master's immediately following my bachelor's, but I may have been more focused had I experienced a few months or years in the workforce.  Personally, I started to get worn down with school.  On the flip side, life can get complicated with responsibility.  You might just want to get started on your master's.  

    As far as funding, have you looked into being employed by the department from which you plan to receive your master's? There are some great work-study funding sources.  Find a professor or department head that you know and ask about all the different funding opportunities. Grants may also be an option. 

    Good Luck!

    Hale Sloan, P.E., M.ASCE
    Sloan Engineering and Consulting

  • 7.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-01-2019 11:21 AM
    ​Hi Joshua,

    I was in a similar predicament as you several years ago. I decided I wanted to get my masters right away so I applied to several graduate programs. I got accepted into Stanford's civil engineering program and I thought that I'd definitely be starting that fall, but soon after I got a phone call in response to a job open house that I had attended and they offered me a job. I called Stanford and they allowed me to defer my master's for a year so I could start fall of the following year. I made the decision to work for almost a year and a half before I went to get my masters and I'm glad I did. My job was mainly remediation/environmental cleanup and I thought that was what I wanted to (turns out it wasn't). Long story short I changed the focus of my masters program to water resources after working for a year and half.

    I agree you may not want to take a large break from school, but if you push it back a year or so you won't lose all your study habits and you'll get a different perspective. That being said if Stanford didn't allow me to defer I most likely would have gone straight to get my masters. My situation was ideal because I wasn't letting anything go, I had a job and was guaranteed a spot in my graduate program the following year. I would recommend reaching out to your programs maybe they allow deferrals as well!

    Good luck with everything!

    Hedieh Esfahani P.E.
    Los Angeles, CA


  • 8.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-01-2019 11:55 AM

    I would start to work after college and see if structural engineering really is your passion.  I think you will learn more in your first 6 months of employment working for a engineering firm that you will in two years of graduate school.  You will also be able to tell where you really want to end up, once you start doing the work.  Personally, I would rather hire an engineer with 2 years of work experience than a masters degree.  This is coming from someone who has hired both.  You can always go back to school or take night/online classes for masters.  

    Best of luck,

    Mark Grofcsik
    RI Engineering, Inc.
    Santa Cruz CA

  • 9.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-15-2019 09:51 AM
    You should also consider your undergraduate background if you're intent on a career in structural design.  There are states requiring SE licensure, and that list continues to grow.  Most SE states have higher educational requirements regarding number of hours of structural design courses an applicant must show in order to sit for the exam, and, unfortunately, it's fairly common that engineers' undergraduate course work is not sufficient.  This is another reason why many firms are beginning to prefer, if not require, a Master's in filling open positions.

    There are a number of options, as mentioned previously.  There are also a number of online programs from very good institutions focusing in structural, which is the route I've taken - fair warning though, the work-life-school balance early in your career can be pretty tough.

    William Key
    Structural EI
    TLM Associates
    Jackson, TN

  • 10.  RE: Masters Degree

    Posted 03-02-2019 03:47 AM

    The other responses didn't hit on the main issue!  In this industry you need a Professional Engineer (P.E.) license and in some states a Structural Engineer (S.E.) license before you can seal the design and your company will let you lead / manage the project.  If long term interest is in management, I'd go for a MBA!  If Interested in heavy analysis, the MS in Structural is good to have, not required.

    I recommend you take a job offer and continue your Masters program while you work.  Courses for Masters are given later in the day so you can attend after work.  Unless you are specializing in an area and working with a professor in the Lab, the Masters is not top on the list of priorities for a structural engineers.

    Most important is to get your Professional Engineering license (PE) so you can be the Engineer of Record (EOR), critical role on any project.  Some state require a Structural Engineer's License (CA. NY, NJ) many don't!  Without a PE you cannot Seal drawings (be the EOR) and will always have to work under someone that has a PE and can seal the design and drawings.  Even if you have a PH.D in structural engineering, without a PE, you still can't lead (be EOR) for any projects.

    • First step, take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam NOW, as a senior before you graduate and forget all the mathematical constants (π is easy, "e"- Euler's constant, ln(e), Na=....... are the harder ones that get folks). Pushing this exam off is the reason many folks I know can't get their PE licenses!
    • Second, get experience.  If you attended an Accreditation Board For Engineering And Technology (ABET) accredited college you only need to work under a PE for 4 years to get required experience before you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.  This allows you to apply (in most states) for your PE license.  8 years experience if your school is not ABET acreditted. A MS in engineering can get you 2 years off the total needed (it's up to the State PE Board).  So if you're at an ABET school, by the time you get the MS, you should  be allowed to take the PE test.  Then you can be managing / leading the projects.
    • Third, get SE only as needed since these are not like the PE license where through Reciprocity, you can get a PE license from other states.
    • Lastly, make sure while you are interviewing with companies, you verify if have a tuition refund programs that could pay for your Masters courses.  This might help you determine which offer to take (note; most construction assignments don't count as PE experience time).  
    Best wishes for your future.

    Anthony Rossi P.E., M.ASCE
    Newark DE