1 March 2002
Transcending the ivory tower
Evren Eryurek wasn't planning a career in industry when he began working on his Ph.D. in Instrumentation and Control Engineering in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee.
Instead, he would have been just as content to spend his days teaching or doing research at Oakridge National Labs. At least that's what he thought until Emerson Process Management offered him a job. Now, as Emerson's director of technology, he's seeing the subject of his Ph.D. researchódiagnostics in a parallel control systemócome to life as one of Emerson's new products.
The biggest attraction for ditching university research for a position in industry was the challenge of working on a unique problem and seeing his research applied in a real product, Eryurek said. But not everyone can have such a serendipitous experience, he warned. "Sometimes Ph.D.s are looked upon as introverts who hate making presentations," he said. "That's a career-limiting perception. If your initial goal is to be in management, get a degree in engineering or an MBA; that recipe has worked for many years," he said. "But if you want to grow in a technically competent company, having a technical background will help."
Whether you're going back to graduate school to wait out the economic maelstrom while sharpening your mind or you merely want to jump-start your career with an advanced degree, there's no guarantee you'll find your ideal job just because you've joined the ranks of the educational elite. In fact, a recent National Association of Graduate-Professional Students survey reported that many students in Ph.D. programs feel "overwhelmed" and "helpless" to make a strategic difference in their careers (view survey results at survey. nagps.org).
Yet higher education is still valued in many engineering careers, and students can make a Ph.D. work to their advantage. To help students transcend the concept of the introvert in the ivory tower, Richard A. Cherwitz, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of the graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin, has built a program called Intellectual Entrepreneurship. The program helps students take ownership of their education, unveiling creative career opportunities for their existing graduate knowledge.
The immediate goal, Cherwitz said, is to enable students "to decide how best to contribute their expertise. The program isn't so much about helping students find alternative careers as it is helping them to discover the value of their chosen disciplines," he said.
In Cherwitz's program, students develop a plan to execute their knowledge in the public sector. "We have projects where students go out and pitch their value; they identify a nonprofit or business and make an argument about what they can provide," he said. "It's a wonderfully enlightening experience because they're given opportunities to see what part of the world they want to be in and what it takes to be successful." IT