Will an engineering PhD over-qualify me for jobs?

“If I get a PhD in engineering, will I have trouble finding a job after I graduate?”

This question dominates the minds of many prospective (and current!) PhD students in engineering.

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Book Announcement: “Engineering Your PhD”

I wrote a book! Titled “Engineering Your PhD: An Actionable Guide to Earning Your Graduate Degree in Engineering”, it is now available as an eBook on Amazon.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments via the comments section below or the contact page. If you are a book reviewer, feel free to contact me about getting a review copy.

Overview from the Amazon listing:

Getting a graduate degree in engineering is not a trivial task, especially if you are pursuing a PhD: from obtaining funding to taking graduate courses to passing one or more make-or-break qualifying exams to presenting at conferences to writing multiple (accepted!) peer-reviewed journal articles and finally writing and defending your dissertation, it is not for the faint of heart. Just reading that sentence is likely to release a flood of wonderful stress hormones.

So how do you tackle all that? First, breathe. Second, read this book: all those topics plus others are covered by someone that has successfully slogged through the entirety of a PhD program. Some of these other topics include: whether to go to grad school at all, and if you do, whether to pursue Master’s or PhD; finding and selecting the right graduate program; establishing good work habits; how to find good research topics; research tools and implementation tips; how to “manage up” your advisor and other faculty; and returning to school as an older student after working full-time (perhaps with kids at home).

Whether you are a prospective or current engineering graduate student pursuing a Master’s or PhD, you will find plenty of actionable content in Engineering Your PhD, as well as the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself and others both before and during your time as a graduate student in engineering.

10 ways to avoid pain when writing a lot by hand

I have done a tremendous amount of writing by hand over the last year as I returned to grad school and then prepared for the PhD written qualifying exams. I was not accustomed to this much writing by hand because I had spent 3 years at a job where I did the vast majority of my work with a computer and keyboard. I came up with a variety of ways to mitigate my hand cramping up and hurting:

1. Have an assortment of pens or pencils with different sizes and grips, and try a different utensil when using one starts to hurt.

2. Expensive pens/pencils are not necessarily better: a lot of times the cheapest mechanical pencils or BIC pens feel the best / hurt the least.

3. Lightweight pencils can be more tiresome at first than larger/heavier pencils, but they tend to be less tiring with extended use.

4. For pencils, go mechanical – the lead is much thinner and doesn’t become dull like traditional pencils (unless you’re an artist and you want that effect).

5. Get a good eraser for pencils – these make a huge difference if you’re erasing a lot. I recommend one of the white Hi-Polymer erasers that easily erase most anything. (thanks to Sam for the name of these type of erasors).

6. Pens can be pain for taking technical notes, but the decreased resistance can be worth it. I found that I preferred pens for taking class notes after a while, as I didn’t have time to erase anyways.

7. If possible write on a single sheet of paper on a hard surface, instead of on top of a pad of paper or other soft surface. This lowers the resistance, and results in much cleaner lines in my opinion. This can be difficult if you’re using a spiral bound notebook, which is why I also recommend writing on loose leaf and collecting all your papers in binders (which also makes later scanning all your written documents much easier as well, and easier to re-organize).

8. If you’re at the point where no matter what pen/pencil you use hurts, and you just need to write something repeatedly to study, try using a chalkboard or whiteboard instead. I never seem to have any pain when using these after doing a lot of writing on a flat surface, I suspect because it’s a very different writing angle and writing utensil.

9. This is “bad form,” but you may need it, especially if you’re in a class: if you write with the pen between your index and middle fingers, where most of the work is done by your index finger, try shifting the pen down one finger to a position where the middle finger does most of the work. This has gotten me through a number of classes and study sessions.

10. Lastly, the most obvious solution: take a break from. Often this doesn’t seem possible, but I’ve found that it’s usually more feasible than it seems initially. Perhaps do some reading without writing for a little while. You might actually find that you didn’t need to write as much as you initially thought.

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The Downside of Too Much Motivational Material

Reading motivational material such as books, blogs, and even audiobooks/podcasts can have tremendously positive effects on your life. This material can inspire you to look at life in many new and useful ways, and push you to start new habits which have a huge impact on your productivity and happiness. However, like most other things that are in general good for you, if you partake in too much of this material, there are negative consequences.

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Put your work in front of you

I have found that when I want to start working on something, but I’m not feeling very motivated or have a lot of energy to get started, one of the best things I can do is to pull up whatever it is I want to work on and place it front and center. I try to use the natural inclination my mind has to interact with whatever is in front of it to establish some forward momentum in that direction.

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