Frequently Asked Questions about Graduate Studies in Engineering

Q: Does Canada need more Master’s and PhDs in engineering?
A:
The economy of the future will be driven by innovation and knowledge. R&D to fuel innovation is largely conducted by postgraduate degree holders, yet Canada lags seriously in producing them.[1] If standards of living are to remain high in this country, Canada will have a great need for more Master’s and PhDs in engineering.


Q: What is needed for admission to graduate studies?

A: Unlike with undergraduate studies, research-based graduate programs are highly individualized. Admission is not as simple as meeting easily specified requirements.

In general, the main issue is to find a professor who agrees to supervise you. Good marks will help that, but not guarantee it. Professors are also looking for alignment of interests, passion, communication skills, reliability, creativity, and, when possible, work and research experience. With a supervisor on board, admission is usually straightforward.


Q: How do I find a supervisor?

A: Check web sites and publications to find potential supervisors doing research of interest to you, and/or search the Faculty of Engineering research database, which lists our professors’ research interests.  When you have identified prospective supervisors, initiate a dialogue with by submitting an application and contacting professors directly.

Q: What is the main advantage of having a Master’s degree in engineering?
A:
Master’s degree provides additional breadth and depth of knowledge, positioning graduates for technical leadership and specialization in industry. Candidates develop their analysis skills, resourcefulness, ingenuity, responsibility and perseverance.


Q: What is the main advantage of having a PhD degree in engineering?
A:
PhD extends all of the advantages of a Master’s degree and opens doors to research and development opportunities in industry, government and academia. PhD candidates develop independence, creativity and flexibility, which means that PhD holders are sought out for leadership roles.

 

Q: What is the difference between a thesis and course-based Master’s degree?
A:
In engineering, a course-based Master’s is intended to increase knowledge, either through technical specialization or expanded complementary skills (e.g., management). This degree is often intended for working professionals.

The thesis-based Master’s will increase technical knowledge, but additionally develops other skills related to the research project such as creativity, flexibility and analytical skills. The research focus also facilitates continuation to a PhD.

 

Q: Is there a financial benefit of a graduate degree?
A:
Further study can delay the start of significant income earning; however, postgraduate degree holders will generally start at a higher compensation level and progress faster in their careers. The net result is significantly higher lifetime income.[2]


Q: Are jobs harder to find with a postgraduate degree?
A:
Specializing results in a better fit to a smaller number of jobs. Your short-term opportunities will depend on the relevance of your specialty.   In the longer term, your skills are more important than your specialty, and the better skills of postgraduate degree holders will improve their employment rates.[3]


Q: What do employers value about engineers with graduate degrees?

A:
While the technical abilities are essential, employers value Master’s and PhD holders for their organization, independence, problem solving, fast learning, commitment, flexibility, and leadership and communication skills.

 

Q: What is needed for admission to graduate studies?
A:
Unlike with undergraduate studies, research-based graduate programs are highly individualized. Admission is not as simple as meeting easily specified requirements.

In general, the main issue is to find a professor who agrees to supervise you. Good marks will help that, but not guarantee it. Professors are also looking for alignment of interests, passion, communication skills, reliability, creativity, and, when possible, work and research experience. With a supervisor on board, admission is usually straightforward.

 

Q: Do I need to change institutions for graduate school?
A:
Changing institutions at some point between degrees will expose you to different ideas, capabilities and philosophies as well as help you to build a more diverse network of contacts. Staying put is more efficient and allows you to complete sooner. Your choice is ultimately a personal one, but be wary of choosing expediency over long-term benefit.

 

Q: What will postgraduate studies cost?
A:
Each institution/department/program has different fees, but research-based graduate students generally receive sufficient support to cover tuition and basic living costs through scholarships, research assistantships and teaching assistantships. Arranging the details of that financial support is an important part of the dialogue with prospective supervisors.

 

Q: How long will my degree take to complete?
A:
Degree completion times are hard to predict because, by its nature, research progress is uncertain and dependent on individual productivity and thesis objectives. On average, a Master’s takes typically 2-2.5 years and a PhD is 4-5 years.

 

Q: Should I work first and come back to study in a few years?
A:
Industry experience will help you become more focused and provide a more grounded perspective for your thesis research. However, once you start to gather life responsibilities (such as a mortgage, car payments, spouse, and children), it becomes very hard to go back to school. Most people find it easier (and more efficient) to proceed directly from the undergraduate level.





References

[1] Canada ranks 27th in the world for the fraction of its population graduating with a PhD (behind almost every other industrialized country); the rate is less than half that of our major European competitors. Of these PhDs, a relatively smaller fraction is in engineering than is typical of peer nations [iv].

[iv] OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/746463344


[2] Data from ASME and ASCE for mechanical and civil engineers shows the increase above median annual income earned by a Bachelor’s degree is 11 per cent for a Master’s and 35 per cent for a PhD holder [i]. Data from APEGBC over all engineering disciplines in British Columbia show respective increases of 9% and 19% [ii].

[i] The Engineering Income and Salary Survey (2012), prepared jointly by the American Society for Civil Engineers and the American Society for Mechanical Engineers. https://www.asme.org/getmedia/788e990f-99f5-4062-801c-d2ef0586b52d/32673_Engineering_Income_Salary_Survey.aspx

[ii]2012 Report on Member’s Compensation and Benefits, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC. http://www.apeg.bc.ca/services/employmentcentre/documents/compsurvey2012.pdf

[3] U.S. data (across all areas of education) show that the unemployment rate for Bachelor’s degree holders is 4.5%, for Master’s degree holders it is 3.5% and for PhDs the rate is 2.5%[iii].

[iii] U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics for workers aged 25 and over, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

Quick Links:

Graduate Program Information
Applications for Master’s and PhD programs are handled by the individual departments. For more information on the different graduate programs, visit each department’s graduate studies site:
Biomedical Engineering
Chemical and Materials Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Mechanical Engineering


Research Strengths

Finding the right supervisor and the right project is a pivotal step in your graduate education. For more information on the research strengths in the Faculty of Engineering, visit our Engineering Research website.