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After successfully completing my Bachelor's degree I decided to do the Masters degree at the same (reputable) university.

But before doing my masters degree I decided on doing an internship in a firm. Within this setting, I have realized my education wasn't as good as I thought.

In school, I gained lots of mathematical and theoretical insights but never hands on and practical abilities. My knowledge feels very narrow and mathematically focused, not knowing or having worked into other sorts of programming/electronics/etc and somewhat forgotten after exams.

I have been looking at possible Master projects to do after this current internship (where I am most of the time googling things to don't feel extremely dumb). I don't feel motivated at all to do another theoretical 6 month project. Also, looking at possible job listings/offers through the internet I got the sensation that I am underqualified or lacking experience for almost all of them, and so I'm not sure a masters degree is going to help.

This leads me to a question. Given I am at the beginning of my career, how can I determine whether or not a masters degree will be beneficial for my career so close to undergraduate work? It's difficult for me to evaluate whether or not this will help my career.

[EDIT] Sorry that I didn't express myself clearly (first time user), but the thing is, I'm already doing my Masters. The only thing pending is my Master's thesis, and before starting that (the thesis) I decided to do a 4 month internship.

closed as off-topic by Justin Cave, Jim G., jmac, CMW, IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 14 '14 at 18:18

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else." – Justin Cave, Jim G., jmac, CMW
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Hey user, and welcome to The Workplace. As explained in our help center, "Questions should be about problems you are encountering or have encountered in the workplace, and not the learning/applying of specific job functions." -- if you could edit your question to ask a question that follows the guidelines listed in our help center, you will get better answers, otherwise your question may be put on hold. Thanks in advance! – jmac Mar 14 '14 at 0:55
  • Hi user17247, I made a fairly substancial edit to your question to focus on the more on topic components. Asking for "what should I do" is off topic and requesting lists of skills to learn is as well (see the FAQ). I have focused this on the core question it seems you are asking so you can hopefully get more focused answers. If this changes your intent too much, feel free to edit but keep in mind what is off topic. – enderland Mar 14 '14 at 1:02
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    Are you finding job postings in your area that require or prefer a master's degree? – user8365 Mar 14 '14 at 13:28
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    possible duplicate of How can I use my masters degree to get a higher salary? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 14 '14 at 18:18
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During my years I gained lots of mathematical and theoretical insights, but never got hands on and practical abilities.

This is how almost all bachelor degree programs are.

Also, looking at possible job listings/offers through the internet I got the sensation that I am underqualified or lacking experience for almost all of them.

Almost all tech job postings have a lot of HR nonsense. Most have absurd years of experience requirements.

Given I am at the beginning of my career, how can I determine whether or not a masters degree will be beneficial for my career so close to undergraduate work?

You are right in your feeling that a masters may not be beneficial before your career starts. There is often a stigma within companies that people who are in academia forever cannot do effective work, deal with deadlines, produce value, etc. This is not always the case, clearly, but a few years working experience is often more valuable than simply taking more coursework.

Some more common exceptions:

  • Your thesis research is directly relevant to your desired career path. This can be helpful, especially with PhDs, or hurtful, if you have no real interest in it.
  • You are able to work during graduate school, perhaps as research assistant. My masters involved me doing research work which translates as job experience. It's not the same as working in industry but it's a lot better than not working, being a teaching assistant (depending on your chosen career path), etc.
  • Your masters work includes very technical information which is practically useful. Some coursework can be less theoretical and more practical. These classes can be desirable for employers.

My advice

My advice to you would be that you should not do a masters at this point. Doing graduate work requires a high level of interest in the degree. You should be highly motivated to learn in-depth about the subject you research, especially for PhD programs.

Everything you are saying strikes me as "I don't really want to do a masters." Wait until/if you have something you want to go deeper with.

Misc thoughts

where I am most of the time googling things to don't feel extremely dumb

Just a note, unrelated to your question, but many people feel this way initially in whatever job they are in. It's normal to not feel confident in new positions, regardless of where in your career you are.

  • Interesting that you say so about Bachelor programmes. In Europe, the Bachelor programmes are mostly the hands-on part of Computer Science, while the theoretical part is mostly in the Master's programmes. Is it the opposite in the US? – Juha Untinen Mar 14 '14 at 10:23
  • @JuhaUntinen even when it is more hands on, the amount you learn from having to actually deal with code you (or others wrote) for more than 3-4 months at a time teaches you a lot that schools can't teach. It's one thing to hack together a cool project for a semester. It's an entirely different thing to build maintainable software which is architected well. – enderland Mar 14 '14 at 10:46
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I hope I can provide some useful suggestions for you, but it is very dependent on the country and the types of companies you want to apply to, so please bear that in mind.

The feeling that you forgot 80% of your studies is just that, a feeling. Once you settle into various jobs over the years, you will find that you will remember more than you initially thought you still knew. So do not fret over that. And if you indeed did forget something, simply freshen your knowledge.

You have not quite mentioned what kind of work you would want to do. Electrical engineering is, like my own field, quite vast in the many ways you can apply it nowadays. Assuming that your goal is more focused on embedded work and the likes (given your Matlab mention), definitely dig deeper into things like Verilog and/or VHDL as well as messing around with small boards like Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Nothing beats just getting your hands dirty, as you've noticed. At the same time, use Coursera or Khan Academy and get some programming skills built up with a language like Python.

As you also mentioned, you seem to abhor going through another long theoretical period. Instead, can I make the suggestion in thinking up some project and working on that? It doesn't matter if it has already been done, the point is merely to find out what exactly you like doing and gets you excited to spend time on. Some people just naturally are more inclined to theorizing and others to tinkering with their hands. While pursuing the project you also get a better understanding of what you might lack in concrete knowledge or skills and allows you to rearrange your list of things you think you need to learn.

Please don't stare yourself blind too much on job listings. Many are created by people who don't have full knowledge of what exactly the job entails and are simply asking for the highest possible. Once you finally sit down with the interviewers who, hopefully, know what they need, you find that the 5+ years in subject X suddenly can be filled by someone who knows subject X for maybe 2 years, but can add skills in subjects Y and Z. It all depends on the package.

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First, the more software background you have, the better. I have two friends that came to the US to finish their Masters in EE, they found work as software developers, then finally ended up as DBAs (Database Administrators). Software related disciplines have been the only area of job growth in the US, and probably much of the rest of the world as well.

Second: I've had a lot of interest over the years in robotics and renewable energy, there were a few occasions when I would talk to EE friends and they would say something to the effect that 'I don't do power electronics'. This means, in my example, solar panels, batteries, load controllers, charge controllers, distributed power systems, etc. It could just as easily mean industrial engineering, utility scale, etc. Given the fact that power utilities are being forced to adapt to renewable and subscriber-originated power, I find this a bit bewildering.

I have another friend that is in his mid-50s and is in the same state - he's done a lot of work in computer chips, particularly chip testing and board level integration. Outside of that, he's pretty much a 'Mr. Fixit', he's more inclined to work with his hands than pound keyboards. He feels just as left out as you do, and he's been in the business 30 years.

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Not knowing what profession you are in, I would say the best way to find out would be to talk to your own supervisors and co-workers about their own educational background (if you feel comfortable enough with them to ask).

Find out what level of education people at your career level have, and the level of education above your position that is expected. That should help you determine whether or not your degree would be detrimental/helpful to you getting a position at that level.

Also as the others have said, make sure you personally are comfortable with seeking a degree, as it requires a high level of commitment to complete.

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how can I determine whether or not a masters degree will be beneficial for my career so close to undergraduate work?

This is not something you can predict with any certainty, so early in your career. And since you are so close to completing your Masters degree, I'm not sure it matters anyway.

Your Masters degree may not add any appeal to your resume as a new graduate. Many companies value experience far more than the number of degrees. if you are competing with experienced candidates, the Masters degree may not really matter.

But if you are competing with other new graduates for a similar position, you may have similar experience to everyone else. Yet you may have an extra degree that others lack - and that could help make you the choice over the others.

Down the road, you may apply at a startup that values degrees to a higher extent.

And even further down the road in your career, you may be in and entirely different field/culture where degrees are critical (Education or education-related software, for example).

I have changed careers several times over my lifetime, and sometimes my Master degree has mattered, other times it didn't matter. In one startup company my extra degree was very helpful in getting me hired. One thing I am confident about - it has never hurt my career. That should provide some comfort for you. Nobody can ever take away the education you have gained. And there are very, very few contexts in which having an extra degree can be a detriment.

Finish your degree requirements, and be confident going forward.

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