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Leave PhD in Chemistry for B.S. in Petroleum Engineering


riddickbull
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I am currently in a top 15 program for my PhD in chemistry. I got into the program without trying much and received a merit fellowship (about 100k). My undergraduate research professor wanted me to apply to a top tier school since my chances were high. However, I did not take my chemistry GREs so I was not eligible to apply. I just accepted admissions to the school with the highest ranking, not even visiting the school. I read many post about people on this site with the same problem as me. My original plan was to go to professional school so I chose to major in chemistry. After volunteering, I hated working with people and patients and did not want to go to professional school. I graduated with my B.S. in chemistry and just kind of fell into a PhD program.

I spoke with many old supervisors who are PhD chemists. They told me not to get a M.S. in chemistry. They told me it was negatively viewed and says "you weren't good enough for a PhD". I wanted to get my masters than go to petroleum engineering (PE) school.

This may sound greedy or unprofessional, but my reason to get a B.S. in PE is simply for money. I noticed a PhD in chemistry does not get you the best salary. My interest in chemistry has faded away. I essentially have nothing left in the gas tank to continue. I need a change of pace. I could graduate with a B.S. in PE and earn more money than a PhD chemist. I spoke to other grad students who told me that if you are in it for the money, don't get a PhD. I don’t mind boring or hard work as long as I make a high salary. This may sound stupid, but I would clean crap of tires if I had a high paying salary.

I love science and mathematics. Chemistry involve little to no math once you are in full research. I noticed all chemist really care about is the theory or "why is it happening". To be honest, I don't care why it is happening. Rather, we got it done and it works. I'm more of an engineer who doesn't care why it happens rather than it worked and gets the job done. I am sick of reading and writing research papers. This was one part I was not prepared for since I despise writing research papers.

I am considering leaving graduate school to earn a B.S. in PE. Why do you guys think? You advice would be appreciated. I wish I could go back and do a 5 years master program in PE. I would be working and making money right now.

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I would recommend researching your new choice very carefully before you jump ship. Perhaps you could reach out to current students of PE programs and see if they are happy in their programs, and what the alumni go on to do. Or you could apply and see where you get in. Either way, I would not recommend quitting your current program without your next move in place.

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If you're in your PhD for money (and apparently not even enough in your case!) then it will be a very very long road ahead to finish. However, salaries fluctuate as supply and demand of different skills does. But one thing that doesn't (normally) change as much, is what you're actually interested in! Even if your drop out of your program and pursue a BS in petroleum engineering, it doesn't guarantee that in 5 years you'll be making more than with your chemistry PhD. You did note that you loved mathematics and science, just not the researchy part that involves paper-writing. In this case engineering might indeed be a better choice for you, but make sure you're not just saying this because you hate your current situation, the grass usually looks greener on the other side. Money though is always a short term gain plan, if you end up hating petroleum engineering, you won't end up making much in the long run because you'll hate your job and (frankly) be bad at it.

You should also consider Chemistry PhD vs industry afterwards. I don't know much about the field but I'm certain the jobs are more application based than grad school. In that case it could be worth toughing out.

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Petroleum engineers make a TON OF MONEY.. They will just about always out-earn a PhD level chemist because the skill set is different, more specialized and in higher demand. I think it would be a good move for you, but what are the hire/fire rates of this profession. Is there high turnover?

As someone who is jumping ship soon, i would encourage you to somehow shadow and see if all aspects of the new profession are what you want to do .

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Interestingly enough, everyone I know with a PhD in Chemistry that's in Industry is making very nice salaries. Where exactly are you guys looking for comparisons?

And are you comparing all PhDs, or just those in Industry? Because the low salaries from teaching positions will definitely skew the results.

I come from a family with a number of PEs, and from what I've seen, starting salaries with a PhD in Chemistry are about 50% higher than starting salaries in PE, and climb much faster as well.

Sources: http://pubs.acs.org/...8710salary.html for Chem degrees.

$115k is the median starting salary for a PhD, going up to over $200k with experience as an average salary.

And the offers I've been hearing about for PE are starting at around $65-75k.

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Thank you everyone for your reply. I am confused on my decision because I know this decision will be the ultimate decision. I spoke with a PhD Chemist from a large company (3M, DOW, or Dupont). My old coworker who is a PhD chemist makes about $110-120k with 20 years of experience. He told me if he could do it over again, he would have got a masters in chemical engineering. He told me that PhD’s are needed to become a professor. On the subject of professors, tenure professors make well over 100k. The professor I am working for makes $140k. The school has a public payroll that shows all employee salaries. To be honest, I wouldn't really mine getting a PhD in chemistry if I didn't have to write research papers, grants and fellowship applications. Also, presenting all the time is a not a positive. I talked to several grad students who are about to graduate. Well over 90% of them are doing posdoc or teaching position after graduation. It is very difficult for PhD students to directly go into industry since industry prefers to hire B.S. and M.S. students because they can pay them less.

I do want to get my B.S. in PE then get my masters. The world of chemicals is getting old to me.

Thanks for your perspective.

Thank you everyone for your reply. I am confused on my decision because I know this decision will be the ultimate decision. I spoke with a PhD Chemist from a large company (3M, DOW, or Dupont). My old coworker who is a PhD chemist makes about $110-120k with 20 years of experience. He told me if he could do it over again, he would have got a masters in chemical engineering. He told me that PhD’s are needed to become a professor. On the subject of professors, tenure professors make well over 100k. The professor I am working for makes $140k. The school has a public payroll that shows all employee salaries. To be honest, I wouldn't really mine getting a PhD in chemistry if I didn't have to write research papers, grants and fellowship applications. Also, presenting all the time is a not a positive. I talked to several grad students who are about to graduate. Well over 90% of them are doing posdoc or teaching position after graduation. It is very difficult for PhD students to directly go into industry since industry prefers to hire B.S. and M.S. students because they can pay them less.

I do want to get my B.S. in PE then get my masters. The world of chemicals is getting old to me.

Thanks for your perspective.

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Couldn't you just go into the petroleum field with your chemistry degree? Even engineers receive a LOT of their training on the job. I'm originally from Alberta, and for a lot of jobs that pay in the oil field you don't even need any degree. Something to think about.

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I'm always wary of getting too specialized at the udergrad level. Wouldn't PE limit you to a very narrow sector? Given that you'll work (hopefully) for the next 35 yrs in a period of great uncertainty, it might be wise to have a little more breadth. PEs definitely make a good salary while they're employed, but is there stability?

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I plan to work for about 10-15 years then quit my job to open a business. If I had the capital right now, I would not go to school. In terms of PE, you do need a PE degree to do the engineering part. You can work on the oil rigs with no degree, but you are doing all the labor with lower pay. It's like civil engineers plan how to build the bridge, but the construction workers build the bridge.

Oil will not be gone in our lifetime. Those who are telling you are incorrect.

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I plan to work for about 10-15 years then quit my job to open a business. If I had the capital right now, I would not go to school. In terms of PE, you do need a PE degree to do the engineering part. You can work on the oil rigs with no degree, but you are doing all the labor with lower pay. It's like civil engineers plan how to build the bridge, but the construction workers build the bridge.

Oil will not be gone in our lifetime. Those who are telling you are incorrect.

I am an engineer, so I definitely know what engineers do, I was just saying that there are jobs other than being a rig pig that you could do with a chemistry degree.

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Thank you everyone for your reply. I am confused on my decision because I know this decision will be the ultimate decision. I spoke with a PhD Chemist from a large company (3M, DOW, or Dupont). My old coworker who is a PhD chemist makes about $110-120k with 20 years of experience. He told me if he could do it over again, he would have got a masters in chemical engineering. He told me that PhD’s are needed to become a professor. On the subject of professors, tenure professors make well over 100k. The professor I am working for makes $140k. The school has a public payroll that shows all employee salaries. To be honest, I wouldn't really mine getting a PhD in chemistry if I didn't have to write research papers, grants and fellowship applications. Also, presenting all the time is a not a positive. I talked to several grad students who are about to graduate. Well over 90% of them are doing posdoc or teaching position after graduation. It is very difficult for PhD students to directly go into industry since industry prefers to hire B.S. and M.S. students because they can pay them less.

I do want to get my B.S. in PE then get my masters. The world of chemicals is getting old to me.

Thanks for your perspective.

I'm going to sound like a huge jerk, but don't jump ship. I think it's a pretty terrible idea. There is basically no upside to it, besides you don't have to write research papers anymore.

Science is becoming incredibly interdisciplinary -- you don't need a PE degree or even chemical engineering to get a job in the oil industry or similar. To be honest, the research being done by chem majors and chemE majors (most of whom go to work at BP, etc if they don't go to grad school) at my university are basically the same thing. Same is true for bio vs bioE. I don't see why you couldn't go work in the petroleum industry with your PhD in chemistry (hell, I know MechE and BE majors who go into the oil industry), especially if you take on some projects related to it during your graduate studies. As an engineer myself, I agree with ktel, there are plenty of things out there for you with a chem degree. In fact, my school doesn't even offer a PE degree.

Also, I don't know your financial situation, but you should consider the opportunity costs of going back for another BS. I'm assuming you're funded right now, but if you go get your BS, that's another 3-4 years of tuition (not to mention the masters..). Let's say you end up with a 20k/year increase in salary; it will take you 10-15 years to make up for the tuition and lost stipend.

And finally, I have my doubts your salary will be significantly higher with a PE degree. Again, there is absolutely no reason you can't do PE with a different degree. I disagree with your assertion that industry prefers to hire BS/MS. While there are more low-level jobs available, there are definitely higher-level ones as well. I know many, many PhDs in industry right now working again for BP, etc. They make bank.

Ultimately, it's your decision. Do whatever makes you happy and you think is the best choice for your future. But in my unsolicited opinion, the pros of getting another BS is far less than the cons, and some of your assumptions about the industry are untrue. Don't let your discontent with your current situation obscure your clear thinking, you should make the best decision for your career.

Edited by bamafan
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