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ECE Undergrads: Your Future in Engineering

On Wednesday evening, professors with The Ohio State University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering held an event to help undergraduate students navigate their career and research goals.

The Information Seminar on ECE Undergraduate Research, at Rm. 260 in Dreese Labs, saw a good mix of students. Some on the verge of graduating, and others beginning their academic path.

They had plenty of questions to keep the discussion moving.

Providing insight to the students were ECE Associate Professor Bradley Clymer, professor Eylem Ekici, associate professor Ayman Fayed, and alumni David Bradway via Skype.

Topics discussed:

Mobility in ECE

As professions across the board increasingly adapt toward working from home, or working remotely, students had questions about the topic. Clymer said mobility in ECE is improving.

ECE and the Economy

Ekici and Fayed agreed that when the economy goes bad, having a PhD is beneficial for engineers. It can open doors that may be closed to those with lesser schooling.

Fayed said he was able to get into academia and find stability during the recession.

He also added that students from all over the world can find opportunities. He said engineering is very open, whereas the medical industry might be the opposite.

"The higher degree and training, the more opportunity you get," he said. "No matter what country you are from."

Double Major, or MS Degree?

A female student asked if double majoring helps to open up the advantages afforded to a student upon graduation.

Clymer said double majors only help if the student picks related areas of study, like ECE with ME or CS. 

"Only if they are related. If it's ECE and music... maybe not," he said.

Industrial Engineering and ECE are also options.

One popular path is matching up an ECE degree with a Business Degree. 

"Or, start with ECE and later get an MBA," Clymer said. "Business schools also look for engineering backgrounds as positive."

Students Unsure Where to Focus

A male student admitted he is close to graduating, but remains unsure about what engineering field he would like to pursue. Any suggestions? He has not been too happy with the internships he's pursued to date.

"It’s like a marriage," Ekici said about picking a career path. "If you are not doing a job that you want, it can become hell. You can always make it work, but you have to get a job that you enjoy.”

Clymer said the student should focus on what classes he has enjoyed.

The professors also agreed, oftentimes being good at something is closely related to enjoyment.

"There are also a lot of people who sometimes like doing things they aren’t necessarily good at," Clymer joked. "Go listen to some musicians.”

Fayed suggested the student pursue more exploration of different fields until it becomes clearer.

Stay in School for that MS or PHD, or Leave to Join the Industry

There were seveal opinions regarding whether to stay on the path of academia toward a PhD or MS degree, or simply find a job after graduation and seek the degrees out later on.

Ekici and Fayed said it is nice to pursue a graduate degree while being employed, but it takes up a “hefty” amount of time.

At a company, assume your work is owned by them. At the university, assume the work is part of that school's research. Always keep that in mind.

Students don’t necessarily need an MS degree to get that first job, but many companies will help you get a MS part-time while you are working, Clymer said. Some may cut down your work hours to help, others may still want those 40 hours, and some may reimburse your educational costs, or have grade requirements.

A male student said he is considering getting a job out of school and then pursuing his MS degree online at night.

"If you need to work really, really hard, do that while you are still young," Clymer said. "I used to do 80-hour weeks. I can’t do that anymore."

He said for engineers that are unattached, it becomes easier to arrange your schedule. For those with children and other family commitments, that flexibility leaves as you get older. 

"The longer you go not being a student, the harder it is to go back to being a student," Clymer said.

Ekici said it all came down to finaces for him, regarding whether or not to stay in school or go into the workforce first. 

Fayed suggested students "finish as much as you can in your education before getting a job."

He said good money can make a person too comfortable to go back to school. He took a 60% pay cut going back to academia, but it is what he loves to do.

"I was determined, so I decided to do it," Fayed said. "Finish your degrees before you leave, otherwise it’s a long shot."

How to pick a Graduate School

Fayed said he only applied to Ohio State for graduate degrees, didn't even consider other schools. The reason was because he wanted to work with a specific Ohio State advisor who was world reknown within the industry.

"Find out which schools are doing what you want to do. Talk to faculty in the area you are interested. If you are interested in Signal Processing, then apply to that field," he said.

Staying with Ohio State can be beneficial because students are already familiar with the people they will be working with.

Ekici said he did not feel the need to leave Ohio State for his MS. For his PhD, "it becomes more complicated."