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I’d been a manager for several years and had my undergraduate degree in Computer Science and MBA. However, I still thought I was missing something to advance in my field, and I felt that missing thing was a PhD in Industrial Engineering. Truth be told, I was looking for a Ph.D. in several fields, but having one would indicate I was the person who deserved a promotion.
I remember two main reasons that I quit that route. First, I took an Industrial Engineering (IE) class on optimization (e.g., supply chain optimization). In the first couple of classes, I remember the instructor discussing how you’d optimize something by hand to solve a problem for a company. It’d been a decade since I got my undergrad degree, and I had spent that entire time working in the software industry. I raised my hand and said, “I understand that you want us to do this by hand so that we know how to do it, but what program do people use in the industry?” For a moment, the instructor thought I was impertinent but realized I was fine doing the class work by hand and wanted to know. He paused briefly and said, “Yeah, you’d never do this by hand; you’d use either A, B, or C to solve the problem in less time.” I don’t recall the software tools he listed, but no one in a job would do it by hand.
The second reason is that I sat down with the Department Head to ask about joining the IE PhD program. We talked briefly about the program and the requirements, but then he asked me why I wanted to pursue the degree. I had a crap reason (“career advancement”), and we talked about the possible career progression for a bit. After all that, he said, “I wouldn’t pursue this if I were you. You don’t need it.” I was miffed about it at the time because I thought this was shooting down what I wanted to do, but in retrospect, I think I was more miffed that he was telling me no. The Department Head told me what he thought I should hear, not what I wanted.
For where my career went after that, he was right. I didn’t need a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering. Maybe I would have pursued a different path with that Ph.D., but I’ve been happy with the path I have followed, and it took less time than a Ph.D. would have required. That conversation likely saved me thousands of dollars in tuition and untold hours in studying a field I wasn’t passionate about and helped me stay on the right track for my career.
Be wary of defaulting to “easy” decisions about extra academic credentials to further your career.
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