Many of my peers in my program, Computer Engineering, are of the opinion that what you do in school is a "head-fake", that you take all this intense math and science essentially to prove that you can accomplish difficult tasks quickly. A "real job" doesn't actually use any of that junk except for a few select classes.

I suppose I understand that sentiment, but my issue is that after something like 20 years of math, Stockholm Syndrome has kicked in and I really enjoy it. I will miss it. I just finished one of the hardest classes at my University with an A because Fourier Transform just makes sense to me. Learning how to operate some software program is not the same as learning how to build a differential amplifier. Not all learning is equal. I have had two fantastic Co-Op (internship) rotations with some big name companies working on great projects, but the most intense math I used was division and that makes me sad. While my peers cannot wait to graduate and start their lives, it feels like it is the end of mine.

It seems that industry, for every 1 person actually producing something, there are 20 people doing documentation, management, talking to the customer, supply chain, etc etc. (edit: and I do not mean that in a derogatory manner, I am actually getting an MBA as well at the moment. I just mean that the one person who uses their academic knowledge is followed by a slew of people who do not use it).

So, the obvious answer is to go through a PhD and enter Academia but I do not think that is the right path for me considering I have no desire to teach and I also really enjoy making the money I do now. Putting my fiscal life on hold for another 4-5 years seems like quite a lot as I am already in debt.

My question then, is, how do I use what I learned in school while in industry? Or should I leave industry and pursue academia? Should I still go for a PhD but do industry research? How can I continue to learn while I am working in industry?

Apologies if this question is unclear, it's very nebulous and if this gets removed or -1 I understand.

  • 2
    Getting at least a Master's degree will help with putting you in play for more cutting-edge technical positions; also, getting a PhD doesn't mean you have to stay in academia ... a lot of folks with PhDs go into industry in R&D roles, for instance. – Mad Jack Oct 12 '17 at 14:58
  • 1
    Academia.se won't be of much help for questions regarding industry. However, if you like math and you can get over your problems with working in academia, there are several fields where you can pursue your love for mathematics. Computational neuroscience and MR physics for example. – Mark Oct 12 '17 at 15:46
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about finding a job in industry, not academia. – mhwombat Oct 12 '17 at 16:23
  • @mhwombat I understand that logic, however, the reason I put it here is that this is from the perspective of academia and I do not know that I want to leave it. I am also wondering about job prospects in academia. – santasmic Oct 12 '17 at 16:25
  • 1
    It depends on the the field of your company... if you work for a company that mostly does mobile apps, your master is completely wasted. If you like analysis (at least this is the only kind of math you mentioned...) then working for a more engineering oriented company may achieve what you want. I'm pretty sure who develops the softwares that engineer use to design and simulate stuff has to use quite a lot of that stuff, and so does who writes things like Photoshop, or real-time rendering algorithms. – Bakuriu Oct 12 '17 at 19:01

What you'll find is that most positions—whether in academia or in industry—you will not be directly applying most of the skills you learned in school.

As a "knowledge professional," the most important "skill" you'll use is learning how to learn: you'll likely be placed in situations where you have to figure out what you need to solve, and how to come up with a solution. Your background will provide help in figuring out the problem—after all, the principles are the same—but you'll typically have to simplify your analysis (because of time or resource constraints, and so on). Or you might have to branch out into new areas that you haven't learned before: being able to do so quickly will give you a big advantage over the "competition" (whoever or whatever that may be).

  • 3
    More than 30 years after getting my bachelor's degree, and with a PhD in a different, albeit somewhat related, area, I have books from undergraduate courses on my bookshelf that get pulled down at least once a week. But, as you say, the base skills in learning and applying new things are relied on all the time. – Jon Custer Oct 12 '17 at 17:59

If you haven't looked into cryptography, you should. It requires a lot of complicated math along with computer science, and it pays quite well.

  • I have looked into it before. What steered me away - and I don't know how true this is - is that I was told the more I know about it, the more likely I am to work for the government. – santasmic Oct 12 '17 at 20:32
  • 1
    While a lot of the top jobs in the field are for the government (intelligence/defense almost entirely) there are plenty of private positions available too. And since the supply of people like you is so limited, it's pretty easy to get hired almost anywhere. – Tom Warner Oct 12 '17 at 20:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.