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Not sure if grad school is really for me


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Hey, guys

 

So I'm a second-year MS student in Electrical Engineering and I'm in kind of a life-changing dilemma. I did my BS in EE, as well, graduated in 2009, floundered around a bit for a year or so, applied to some grad schools, got in, and I've been in my MS program since 2011. The thing is, the whole time I've been in grad school, I've been realizing more and more that I just. do. not. care. about engineering. I struggled to get B's the whole time, I couldn't find anything that generated enough interest for me to do a thesis, and I basically just kind of...survived to get as far as I have now.

 

The thing is, I never really honestly admitted this to myself until very recently, but the truth is that I just don't care about anything that I'm studying, and I never did. Even when I was applying to undergrad schools, I applied to engineering for what I now realize are all the wrong reasons:

  1. I thought I would suck less at it than I would at anything else.
  2. I thought that it was what I was "supposed" to do.
  3. I was afraid of what others would think of me if I didn't go into engineering.
  4. Money

So basically, my entire post-high school educational career has been a lie!

 

I'm now working with a group for a thesis, but I'm embarassed that it's going to be quite short. Basically, we're modifying some Android apps to be more power-efficient and we're going to try to quantify the improvement in power-efficiency. But is that really good enough for a Master's thesis? How am I supposed to write a thesis on that? I'm basically just modifying some code in some existing Android apps. How many pages am I supposed to get out of that?

 

I've been considering dropping out, but I've already spent something like $30,000 on the program, not to mention rent and living expenses. What should I do? I'm thinking of talking to some career counselors and maybe switching to a different field entirely.

 

Any advice?

 

 

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First about your thesis - apart from the modified code, you need to give a background of the original code, some brands that are using the different variations of it, the need to modify it, what kind of variables and principles you are following to modify the code, why you chose to modify it in this particular manner, theories related to it if applicable, then the code itself. Finally, you need to explain why this code is better than the original one, how it works, if there are comparable modifications available in the market and suggest the directions this field can take in future. All this should easily cover at least 60 pages, typed in 1.5 spacing, 12 pt font. and this is in addition to the technical writing that you normally include related to the code itself. Besides, I believe STEM candidates are not required to write a very long thesis.

 

Now, the main question about your feeling about leaving or not - since you have already invested considerable time, money and energy in this program, perhaps you should complete this program and join in a job afterwards. While in job, you can figure out what exactly it is that interests you - search on the web, read some books and articles in that field to confirm that you will really enjoy your new field. Once you have decided upon your new field, take some undergraduate courses in it either online or as part-time. Get about 15-18 credit hours in the new field with a good GPA. After this, you'll be ready to transcend into your new Graduate field. While doing all this, you'll have your Engineering job to support you and you'll also save some money for your future Graduate study if needed.

 

Leaving something halfway through after you have invested considerably in it doesn't reflect well on your profile and also is a waste of your time, effort and money. So, look upon your Engineering training as a stepping stone to your new field of interest, rather than abandoning it. 

Edited by Seeking
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First about your thesis - apart from the modified code, you need to give a background of the original code, some brands that are using the different variations of it, the need to modify it, what kind of variables and principles you are following to modify the code, why you chose to modify it in this particular manner, theories related to it if applicable, then the code itself. Finally, you need to explain why this code is better than the original one, how it works, if there are comparable modifications available in the market and suggest the directions this field can take in future. All this should easily cover at least 60 pages, typed in 1.5 spacing, 12 pt font. and this is in addition to the technical writing that you normally include related to the code itself. Besides, I believe STEM candidates are not required to write a very long thesis.

 

Now, the main question about your feeling about leaving or not - since you have already invested considerable time, money and energy in this program, perhaps you should complete this program and join in a job afterwards. While in job, you can figure out what exactly it is that interests you - search on the web, read some books and articles in that field to confirm that you will really enjoy your new field. Once you have decided upon your new field, take some undergraduate courses in it either online or as part-time. Get about 15-18 credit hours in the new field with a good GPA. After this, you'll be ready to transcend into your new Graduate field. While doing all this, you'll have your Engineering job to support you and you'll also save some money for your future Graduate study if needed.

 

Leaving something halfway through after you have invested considerably in it doesn't reflect well on your profile and also is a waste of your time, effort and money. So, look upon your Engineering training as a stepping stone to your new field of interest, rather than abandoning it. 

 

If you don't mind me asking, what field did you do your Bachelor's, Master's in?

 

I mean, regarding the code, I'm pretty much just adding or modifying a few lines of code in an already-existing program. And even then, they're mostly just workarounds because I'm not familiar with a lot of concepts in Android, like threading. I could maybe try to modify a second app and then compare it to the first, but still.

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Think of your PhD as a means to an end. You've invested so much time, effort and money into it- it seems like a shame to not finish.

 

As far as the length and content of your thesis- that's dependent on what your advisor, committee and discipline want. Try and remember that a Masters is not necessarily about generating new and earth shattering research, it's about developing the skills, tools, and experience to conduct research. As insignificant as your research may seem, the process of coming up with a question, doing a lit review, conducting an experiment, doing data analysis, and writing/presenting results are all valuable skills.

 

While it seems like you're obviously not interested in grad school - which is totally ok - it would probably be worth your time to finish it up, since you're so close.

 

Also, the length of your thesis is not a representation of the quality and/or significance of the work you've done. 

 

As for your topic, I'm not in your area...but to me it seems like a decent project. You outline, as Seeking said above, the history of androids  their relevance, and why battery power is important. present your experiment - adding to the code - see if it changes battery life, results, discussion/implications/limitations, BAM- done. Throw in a few tables and graphs..and BAM WHAM...done even more!

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Think of your PhD as a means to an end. You've invested so much time, effort and money into it- it seems like a shame to not finish.

 

As far as the length and content of your thesis- that's dependent on what your advisor, committee and discipline want. Try and remember that a Masters is not necessarily about generating new and earth shattering research, it's about developing the skills, tools, and experience to conduct research. As insignificant as your research may seem, the process of coming up with a question, doing a lit review, conducting an experiment, doing data analysis, and writing/presenting results are all valuable skills.

 

While it seems like you're obviously not interested in grad school - which is totally ok - it would probably be worth your time to finish it up, since you're so close.

 

Also, the length of your thesis is not a representation of the quality and/or significance of the work you've done. 

 

As for your topic, I'm not in your area...but to me it seems like a decent project. You outline, as Seeking said above, the history of androids  their relevance, and why battery power is important. present your experiment - adding to the code - see if it changes battery life, results, discussion/implications/limitations, BAM- done. Throw in a few tables and graphs..and BAM WHAM...done even more!

 

Well, this is a Master's, not a Ph. D. Also, my project involves the Android mobile operating system (as opposed to iOS and Windows mobile, although now that you mention it, I could perhaps also work with some of those), not androids.

Edited by tomhaverford
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My advice would be to finish your thesis the best way you can. As you won't be seeking a Ph.D. aftwerwards, it doesn't have to be the best thesis that was ever produced.

 

What many engineering graduates do in my country is look for a job in finance, banking or consulting. Such companies appreciate the way of thought that engineers have acquired during their studies and prefer recruiting them over people who have studied economics, management or marketing.

Edited by narcisso
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I agree - - - if you are already at the thesis stage, just go for it and even though it shouldn't feel like "work," just think of yourself of getting paid the $30,000 you spent in your tuition / loans by finishing it.

 

I'm a big proponent of doing what is right and to leave when its not going well, but, when you are at a 90-95% completion rate, just suck it up and plow through it.  And hey, a thesis does not have to be long - -- they are not necessarily judged on length.  My final masters thesis was around 60 pages and a year later I shortened it down to 12, submitted it to a journal as an abstract, and in 2012 it got published.

 

Anyway, so what I'd recommend is the following:  FOCUS on what you want to do (non-engineering) so you can get excited about stuff :-) but tell yourself that you need to finish this thesis as a last item, and then you'll move on :-)

 

Hope this helps!

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^I agree with the above.  Normally I am a huge proponent of "Why make yourself miserable?  Just leave if you know you don't need it," but that's for PhD students and typically students who are 1 or more years away from ever finishing.  But you're in the last semester of a master's program and you just need to bang out a mediocre thesis.  It doesn't need to be the best thesis ever written; it doesn't even need to be particularly good.  Just get it finished.  Your Director of Graduate Studies or whoever heads the MS program at your university will know whether what you have planned is an acceptable thesis, so ask first.

 

I think my master's essay was about 15 pages long.  That's because I wrote it in publishable journal article format; I did, indeed, publish it as a journal article.  So yours doesn't have to be long, either.  It depends on the conventions of your department.

 

So plow through.  get focused and get through the next 3 months.  You can parlay your MS in engineering into a lot of different fields - it's still going to be useful to you!

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Unlike a PhD, a master's thesis does not have to be original research! The precise rules will depend on the school, but most places will not require Masters theses to even be publishable quality. Of course, if it is publishable material, that's much better! Instead, the goal is to demonstrate that you are able to perform research work and communicate what you did. Also, it is to show that you will be able of doing PhD quality work in the future. 

 

Many MSc theses are not going to be original work at all. Some MSc projects might just be redoing something that has already been done, but in a slightly different way. Or repeating previously completed work (with a code, experiment, protocol that is reliable) to get more data to analyse. 

 

Also, theses can be written in a more pedagogical way. I wrote mine so that a college student with only 1 (or 2) years of physics could understand. Again, if you have publishable work, it's better to do what juilletmercredi did and just write it for publication, but if not, you don't have to stress about "not having enough material" -- if there are page minimums (unusual I think), you can stretch your content by explaining more details. At my last school, the suggested length is no more than 100 double-spaced, thesis formatted (which wastes a lot of room) of content (including figures). 

 

Anyways, like the others said, you are close to being finished, so just work on finishing up the thesis. You don't have to worry too much about creating a masterpiece. Just get it finished!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'd finish up and get the degree and then grab a job in your field for now (at least that way you can pay the bills), but I'd be actively looking into starting down a new educational path so you can find something you actually like to do.  

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i second all of the above..definitely do not quit, .your almost finished, hang in there. if you hate it plan lots of little rewards for yourself, your study breaks can include researching alternative careers. and just be very glad you found out all this when you are young and don't have kids and mortgage ect that would prevent you changing.

 

Also having a degree and masters will stand greatly to you when applying for other courses, if you decide to retrain. for example i'm doing a phd in psychology, one of my colleagues did an undergrad in physics and then a two year conversion course in psychology and is now doing a phd in psychology. another did a degree in biomedical science and did a masters in psyc.

 

in my country anyway, once you have a degree you can switch careers entirely with 1-2 year conversion or masters courses.

 

getting on these can be competitive , but having a degree and masters will really benefit you.so see completing this masters and doing well as setting yourself for career switch.

 

also my sisters friend studied physics in undergrad and is now working in finance- very well paid apparently too.

 

actually just remembered  a very famous neuroscientist whose work i follow Joeseph Le doux, did his undergrad in i think it was economics

 

good luck

Edited by elise123
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I agree with all said, and would add: talk to someone, work this through. It is a big step you've made --acknowledging this is not what you want-- now you need to find what truly drives you crazy. You need to devote time to this so it's a great idea to finish your masters, get a job and work on this with a counsellor or psychologist. You shouldn't be afraid of this, you are very brave in admitting all this to yourself. Now, go and do something about it :D :D :D 

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I agree with all the sentiments expressed here.  Finish and then reflect on what makes you happy.  Perhaps working in your field will be much better than education in your field.  I have been doing corporate finance for the last 12 years after finishing my MBA.  Now headed back for PhD in Anthropology.  Each accomplishment  builds to next one and shows anyone looking that you can get to done!

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