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How is a 5-year engineer's degree viewed among the admission committee for PhD applicants? How much weight does the name of the degree have in the review process?

Assuming a choice were to be made between an applicant who has an engineer's degree and another who has a master's degree in the same field (supposing the applicants are equal with respect to the other factors: same letters of recommendation, same SOPs,...) would the master's holder be advantaged just by virtue of holding a master's degree? What if the engineer's degree holder had taken courses that would be viewed more favorably with respect to the program they are applying to, would he still be at a disadvantage?

It would be fantastic if applicants and/or admission committee members could share their personal experience with this matter.

EDIT: The applicants hold degrees in Electrical Engineering, and are applying to a PhD in Electrical Engineering. But this doesn't exclude answers from those who were in similar engineering fields (e.g., Mechanical Engineering degree holder applying to a PhD in Mechanical engineering,...)

EDIT2: An engineer's degree is a degree received after usually 5 years of study. It used in some countries in Europe like France.

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    PhD applicants for what field? Fourteenth Century European History? What? – Buffy Feb 20 at 16:07
  • @Buffy In normal circumstances, I doubt that an engineering degree holder would be able to apply to a PhD in "Fourteenth Century European History" . – Hilbert Feb 20 at 16:12
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    Agreed, so what field are you asking about? Theoretical math is different from EE, I suspect. – Buffy Feb 20 at 16:15
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    I suggest that you focus the question more on what you need. – Buffy Feb 20 at 16:32
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    I apologize for the confusion made. I just clarified what I meant by engineering degree. – Hilbert Feb 20 at 18:05
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It's going to be a big old "that depends."

In the case of a very similar undergrad subject to grad subject, as electrical engineering to electrical engineering, the engineering degree will be looked on favorably. Especially if the undergrad school was a high ranked school.

The farther the subjects are apart the less weight the engineering degree will hold. For example, electrical eng. undergrad to computer science PhD is possible, if the undergrad had lots of computer science type classes. And so on. If the undergrad degree had a strong emphasis on courses that are relevant, then it is possible. You will be facing stiff competition, so you would need to have some reason to be picked over more directly relevant students. High marks or relevant work experience or special projects or really good letter of recommendation or some such.

If the subjects are very far apart then you will be facing a very high barrier. Especially if you didn't take a lot of relevant classes.

It is possible to jump specialties. But it's a tough thing to do.

My PhD supervisor did his undergrad in Engineering Science. This is a very unusual degree in that students basically pick a science area, and double up. They must pass all the requirements for the other department, and all the requirements for an engineering degree. My prof did physics. So he got all the core courses for a physics degree, and all the core courses for an engineering degree. And he aced it all.

One of my co-students in my PhD did an undergrad in languages. He could speak five, and write four, including Mandarin and Russian. But he also loaded up on math and physics. So he fit in well in a particle physics PhD.

My prof's prof was John Moffat. Moffat had no undergrad degree. He was living in Paris and making a living as an artist, learning physics in his spare time. Then he wrote Einstein a letter asking him how to solve some tricky problem. Einstein wrote back. After a few exchanges, Einstein asked him why he didn't ask his own prof these questions? And when Moffat explained he was just an artist living in Paris, Einstein got him into Cambridge in the PhD program.

So it's possible. But it takes unusual circumstances. And you need to do a lot of prep work before you go.

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  • (+1) For specific examples of field jumping. A former university faculty colleague of mine got an undergraduate degree in English and later a Ph.D. in math. Another former colleague of mine was at one time a full professor of mathematics at an R1 Doctoral University and currently teaches English at a different R1 Doctoral University. A former classmate got a Ph.D. in physic after an undergraduate degree and some graduate work in classics. (continued) – Dave L Renfro Feb 21 at 7:13
  • The very famous physicist Edward Witten majored in history and minored in linguistics (i.e. he didn't even minor in math related area!). – Dave L Renfro Feb 21 at 7:18
  • With all due respect, this doesn't really answer the question. The question is not about a bachelor's degree, but, rather, about an engineer's degree. – Hilbert Feb 21 at 13:02
  • @Hilbert: "completing it granted qualifications to further pursue a doctorate." [from the link you gave] I realize your question includes additional information that restricts policy to specific countries/regions, but it's probably helpful for others reading this thread to mention that, in the U.S. (and possibly some other countries), the vast majority of those who pursue a (research) doctorate do so directly after a bachelor's degree, and for virtually every university in the U.S. there are no field-specific degrees required for admission to any given doctoral program. – Dave L Renfro Feb 21 at 16:24
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It would be naive to think that the name of your degree is hugely determinative of your suitability for a doctoral admission. What matters is what you did within the degree and how suitable it is for the next level. An engineering degree might be highly suitable for a degree in applied math. Or not.

What any admissions committee wants to know is how suitable is your preparation for the upcoming work and how likely is it that you will succeed in it. The name of the degree doesn't mean much other than as indicators that sort of suggest what you have done in the past. "Resource Engineering" (is that a thing?) only gives a hint of that.

They will look at the courses you took, especially if there is some change in field. They will look at how you did in the courses they think important, largely ignoring others. They may look for some research and/or writing experience. They will look, in most cases, at your letters of recommendation and at who wrote them. But it is predictors of success that they need to see.

A degree in Mechanical Engineering might not be suitable at all for a doctorate in EE (though I don't know that for sure) while a degree in CS might be more appropriate.

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