Technology is improving at a rapid pace, and these developments are being incorporated into the manufacturing industry. According to Deloitte’s “2018 Skills Gap in Manufacturing Study,” the industry could have a shortage of 2.4 million skilled workers by 2028. Although not needed for all manufacturing positions, I think pursuing a master’s degree could benefit the careers of engineering students or young professionals by increasing their experience and technical knowledge. As a graduate student, I would like to share my experience and highlight the advantages to help those considering a master’s degree.
I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta in Canada. My research group, the Advanced Composite Materials Engineering Group, studies polymer composites and multifunctional nanocomposites for different areas, including energy storage, structural applications and additive manufacturing.
My thesis project involved modifying a filament winding machine, originally used to produce thermoset polymer composite parts, to produce parts made from glass-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic tape. The development process involved investigating different manufacturing parameters and continuously improving the setup to achieve repeatable and high-quality results. Part quality is verified through dimen-sional measurement, microstructure analysis and bond strength tests. Development of a test setup to determine the long-term behavior of the material under different loading conditions is in progress.
A master’s degree can be a way to apply some of the information learned during an under-graduate degree and to gain in-depth technical knowledge in different areas. Challenges arose during development of the manufacturing and test processes; investigating solutions for these challenges allowed me to branch out and learn about topics such as composites, heat transfer, data acquisition equipment and design.
Although my degree is in mechanical engineering, it is possible to take courses from other disciplines of engineering or even business. Databases for standards and research publications are accessible through the university, making it easy to explore many areas of interest.
Graduate studies help strengthen technical knowledge but can also be a way to gain hands-on experience. Some companies prefer a candidate with a master’s degree, while others consider a master’s degree equivalent to two years of experience. It could be a great way to become involved in a field you have limited experience in! For example, I had no experience in composite materials before starting graduate studies, but now I am familiar with their material properties and manufacturing processes.
A master’s degree is not only for people with limited work experience. I am a certified Six Sigma Green Belt with five years of experience in the manufacturing industry, but I feel graduate studies have value because of the student perks. Student discounts are awesome, but there are also internships, student groups and networking opportunities available for your personal and career development.
Previously, I worked abroad in Germany as a research intern for three months to study corrosion in automotive applications. This opportunity would be difficult if not impossible to achievein a full-time position in industry. I have met a surprising number of graduate students who have patents or founded a startup. Volunteering with a student group, either in a leadership or technical role, could be great experience as well. You will get as much out of graduate studies as you are willing to put in.
There are two types of master’s degree: Research or course-based. For engineering students or young profes-sionals, I would recommend learning more about the careers you are interested in to see which degree is suitable or if it is needed. Reach out to people in the industry and learn about their career paths; using SME Connect (connect.sme.org) could be a great way to do this. I knew pursuing a master’s degree would be right for me after talking to a couple experienced coworkers.
I would also recommend talking to current graduate students to hear about their experience. Graduate studies can provide technical knowledge and great experience, but they require a large financial and time commitment.
Not every career will require graduate studies, so do your research to see if it is right for you. To continue this dialogue, please reach out to me through SME Connect (connect.sme. org/profile/17618).
SME is happy to announce that 75 members have achieved life member status. These longtime members achieved this prestigious status by combining their age and years of membership, which now equal 100.
They can now begin using the initials LSME (signifying “Life Member of SME”) following their names and will enjoy dues-free membership for life.
The 2019 SME Life Members are:
Please join SME in congratulating these members on this achievement and for their dedication to SME. For more information on the various membership levels offered by SME, visit sme.org/join.