I am wondering this because I love electronics, but I go to a college which is mostly for vocational training. Often times I feel like our courses are 40% waste of time (usually too much industry software and/or uninterested lecturers giving compulsory classes).

So I had this idea of taking a year off to focus on my own projects as I did over last summer.

Since I am not sure a masters degree will teach me anything that a book can not, I was wondering whether I could do applied research at home permanently and potentially make money off of it? Right now I earn some money at home online via a site I own. Not much, but enough to get me by. I know how to read and I spend 10 hours in the library with ease (as I have been told this is how grad students work their way through projects). I mostly work on small-scale electronics, like currently an abbreviated type of joystick for paraplegics (that a paraplegic friend suggested). I work alone, at least at the moment.

Could I work on projects on my own and make a life out of this or should I try to join a good university for my masters? How are people without degrees regarded?

  • 3
    Welcome to Academia.SE! I'd suggest you look through some of our earlier independent-researcher questions, there should be a lot of information there. In your specific case, the best course of action might be trying to get into a better school, because your current college frankly doesn't sound like it's preparing you for independent research, either. Jul 9, 2015 at 12:28
  • Okay but what does a masters course teach in the way of research? After all, it spans only half a year for the thesis, doesn't it? Jul 9, 2015 at 16:07
  • There are two year MSc courses; you get a year to find your topic and a year to execute, all while taking courses. You get access to more expensive software and hardware, and you're surrounded by other researchers and professors that can give you ideas or help hone yours The courses help. Some people start their MSc with the topic already in mind, in which case they have the whole year or 2 for execution, refinement and growth.
    – HBSKan
    Jul 9, 2015 at 16:50
  • Master's degree can be thought of as preparation for PhD study. It provides a similar in-depth research experience, but at smaller scale and in shorter timeframe. Primarily, it provides experience in carrying out research using a systematic scientific research methodology, taking a project through all stages from concept to write-up/publication. This pushes the student to understand how their research fits into the broader field, and structure the problem and solution approach such that is intelligible not only to one individual but to other experts, which enables contribution to the field.
    – A.S
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:15

4 Answers 4


In the academia, degrees matter, being used as the main gatekeeping mechanism for identifying the pool of eligible applicants for positions at universities. Typically, the higher up you climb up the degree ladder (Master's, PhD) the more (and fancier) doors open.

In private industry, the majority of companies still require at least a bachelor's degree. So if you are considering working for a company at least for a short period of time to develop additional skills, I would highly recommend finishing a bachelor's degree. In some startups (especially Internet startups), you may be able to secure a position through networking with the founders (who sometimes themselves are dropouts).

But it sounds like you prefer to lay your own path in this life. I think you could make a living out of this by becoming an independent inventor, receiving and then either selling patents to corps or developing them into businesses on your own.

You could also work as independent consultant (formally, a sole proprietor) offering software and/or hardware engineering solutions to businesses. In this case, it is important to develop expertise in a fairly narrow niche, such as robot sensors, a programming language (e.g. Java), or a particular manufacturing process in a specific industry (e.g. programming car electronics for auto manufacturers). Typically, a way to develop such skills is to actually work for a company with a focus in this niche, then striking on your own.

To build up experience, also consider design competitions (e.g. dexigner.com/design-competitions). While some of these are for students affiliated with universities, others are open to anyone.

These options are not necessarily either/or, so you might be able to stitch a successful career and comfortable living by combining two or three of them at once, varying only the extent to which you allocate your time and energy to each of these pursuits. The most important thing is, to make sure you have fun no matter what you do. If it ain't fun, it ain't worth doing. You seem to have the talent and motivation to pursue your interests, which many people dream of but only a few have the guts to actually do. Good luck!


IF you are planning to work for someone else then it could be difficult to get hired next to someone with a Grad degree. Though if you were to work for yourself it IS indeed possible to make a living based on your research, findings, and application.

The hardest part for you though will be accreditation. Are you someone who knows what they are doing and have good intentions or are you an 8 year old who can make things up? When things come to the online medium you never really know who you are dealing with. You need to get you name out there in order for people in the higher education and professional realm to take your research seriously.

Work on getting your name out there and if you can do research with someone who is accredited and has a Grad school degree. The hardest part is getting started because if you do hit it big and have something viable to sell to a company or even a good you are able to make yourself there's no sales unless people know who they are dealing with.

Networking is a powerful thing. If you can find people who do what you want to do reach out and ask them how they got started find out how they networked and who to look for in connections. The more connections you have the better your chances are of "making it" with your solo venture.


Probably best to have a combination of personal projects and formal schooling. Electronics is one of those fields where you can make something useful on your own and enjoy moderate success (especially if you can interface them in useful ways to technology; search for "Maker's Movement" and related topics like arduino/micro-controllers for some ideas).

A standard type of job using electronics will probably require knowledge of at least some of that industry software you've seen in your current program, or other useful skills that might be harder to pick up on your own. Additionally, lack of formal qualifications could be viewed with suspicion and might prevent you from getting a job that you are a perfect candidate for.


If you really mean research -- as opposed to experimenting with components already made, which is almost always going to be development -- you probably can't do it without a major investment in lab equipment. It's unlikely many of us can afford that on our own.

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