Thursday, May 26, 2011

From Academia, Looking Out

Unlike a very large number of graduate student, I'm not in a  relationship with a fellow graduate student or with someone in a completely unrelated field. I am, in fact, engaged to a fellow engineer who is working in industry. Unlike many of my straight-into-graduate school peers, I have a pretty solid impression of the daily life of an entry level engineer. It's very interesting to compare the disparities between our routines and responsibilities, and compare what we actually are doing to what we were told as undergraduates.

For clarity, Mr.ME is a component release engineer for a large manufacturing corporation. He's very much on the practical side of things. I, on the other hand, do computation, making me very unpractical.

Mr. ME has at least one meeting daily. I have 1-2 meetings weekly. However, his meetings often involve decision-making. My meetings often involve my advisor going of on odd tangents (recent example: the history of VW Beetle, the properties of polar bear hair, and bicycling trips in central Illinois).

Mr. ME is responsible for quality control decisions that can shut down entire plants. He has a specific list of widgets he is directly responsible for, and a boss who gives him specific things to work on. Most days, my responsibilities are very unclear. My real responsibility is to myself, to make progress that I am happy with, in the absence of clear advisories directives. This is one of this biggest areas in which we find discrepancies from what "everyone" says things will be like. Going into industry, you're told to expect very little real responsibility and lots of drudge work and spread sheets. Going into graduate school, I was told that I would be working long hours on research, and on whatever my advisor told me to do.

Graduate students are assumed to be poorly paid, with horrible benefits and worse hours. While the hours have held true, Mr. ME's first job here paid less than I made, required him to go into work at 5:30AM every other Saturday, and had no benefits. That being said, his new job is much better on both fronts.

Looking out at industry, I sometimes long for the coherent since of direction, and real deadlines and responsibilities.  On bad days, I remember about being paid time-and-a-half for overtime hours... On the other hand, I'm learning vast amounts, and I have much more flexibility in my hours and work. It's often up to me to find things to do, which can be problematic when key equipment is broken (like the login server...). I can be more confident in my decision to do graduate school, because I have a clearer view of the most probable alternative. There's still days when I question it all, but most of the time, I'm glad I'm here.

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