Interested in Alternative Energy Research

bjc219
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:27 am

Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bjc219 » Thu Aug 04, 2011 10:58 pm

I'll save the tl;dr and just keep this to the point. I'm an undergraduate student working on two degrees: Physics and Chemical Engineering. I'm wrapping up my 3 year electives binge at a local community college and will be transferring to my state's flagship university in one year to do another 3 years, this time full of straight Physics, ChE, Chemistry, and Math (cannot WAIT!)

I've done some (miniscule) research already and hope to do an REU when I transfer. My question is more about what I'll be doing POST Graduate School. I'm interested in alternative energy research, and I have many questions, but I'll keep it down to three:

1. What specific research is making actual progress? I hear solar is doing well. Wind and hydro are basically tapped out, and although hot fusion is the holy grail, it would take decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to fund. I'm looking for something to focus in on which is reasonable.

2. Where is the best place to conduct this research? Any specific state? Any specific COUNTRY? Government has cool toys, but is prone to funding freezes; private industry giants such as Exxon throw lots of money around, but may have a vested interest in suppressing real progress in alt. energy (this is an assumption); private industry start ups that focus only on green tech. may have a pure vision, but insufficient funding to get things done. Thoughts?

3. The real killer for a grad school forum: At what point will I be overqualified? I will get my Master's degree(s?) first in case a PhD isn't in my best interest, and then go on if it seems right. I hear a PhD in Engineering over qualifies you for basically any industry job. Should I get a PhD in both my majors, one of my majors, or neither?

Dang it, it became a tl;dr anyway.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:34 am

This is the only thing I know about energy research: a field where for actual engineers/scientists working on front line energy development it makes sense to have a PhD in physics or engineering is plasma research, which is central to fusion energy. I know a big group (which was really friendly when I visited) is located at UCSD, check it out here http://www-physics.ucsd.edu/research/plasma/index.php, here http://aries.ucsd.edu/ARIES/, and here: http://www.pisces.ucsd.edu/pisces/. I have no idea how close we are to fusion though (I would guess about 25 years), or how well funded it is (I would guess there's a load of government money and nothing else).

As for should you get a PhD, its arguably never a good career choice (the opportunity cost is pretty high, and 6 years of job experience is worth more than 6 years of school). But that doesn't matter that much; you'll make plenty of money regardless, and you get to do cooler things if you have your PhD. But you should only get one PhD; if I had to guess, you'll probably end up getting it in something like Mechanical Engineering or Materials Science (but you could also go something as broad as Applied Physics or even a traditional Physics degree).

bjc219
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:27 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bjc219 » Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:42 am

Do you mean a PhD in Plasma Physics, or just a PhD in general when you say it isn't a good idea?

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:47 am

bjc219 wrote:Do you mean a PhD in Plasma Physics, or just a PhD in general when you say it isn't a good idea?


I mean in general, but only economically. Quality of life is more than that though; I'm in a PhD because I wanted to explore certain ideas in cosmology to their fullest extent, not because I want to make loads of money. Though if someone were to offer me ENOUGH money, that might change my calculation...

bjc219
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:27 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bjc219 » Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:51 am

I mean in general, but only economically. Quality of life is more than that though; I'm in a PhD because I wanted to explore certain ideas in cosmology to their fullest extent, not because I want to make loads of money. Though if someone were to offer me ENOUGH money, that might change my calculation...[/quote]


My Sociology professor, a very "real world" smart as well as "book" smart man, a Statistician, and a man I respect and admire very much, told me once about the income. He said to be sure I try to go all the way and get a PhD. A friend of his got a job for an oil company in Houston and would be making thousands more a year if he had just finished his doctorate (he was in like, literally the LAST stage or two before getting it). On the other hand, my Physics teacher told me a story about a guy he graduated with who has a PhD in Engineering and who puts that he has a Master's on his resume so he can actually get hired! Dah! Confusion!

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Aug 05, 2011 9:59 am

It goes something like this:

A PhD in science or engineering qualifies you for the project leader/architect jobs in industry. There are relatively few of these, and they're the only ones that economically justify the opportunity cost of getting a PhD. A PhD is also not the only way you can end up in these jobs; getting your masters, getting hired, and doing good work for a few years at the company also qualifies you. Here's a (made up) list of salaries at a theoretical company to illustrate the reason why the second option is more economically feasible.

PhD: Masters
22000 (grad school) 15000 (grad school)
22000 45000 (entry level engineering job)
24000 48000
24000 55000 (first promotion)
24000 60000
50000 (entry level position) 65000
60000 (first promotion) 200000 (project leader)
65000 210000
220000 (project leader) 220000

Starting from scratch, you get promoted faster and make more money as a masters student. If you, like the sociology profs friend, start your PhD and quit in the 5th year, you made a bad decision. If you never start in the first place, you made a good decision economically. I will say that studying those 6 years in a PhD program is fulfilling beyond the 22000 stipend, so in that way it could be worth it; but starting a PhD to increase your income makes no sense.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Aug 05, 2011 9:59 am

It goes something like this:

A PhD in science or engineering qualifies you for the project leader/architect jobs in industry. There are relatively few of these, and they're the only ones that economically justify the opportunity cost of getting a PhD. A PhD is also not the only way you can end up in these jobs; getting your masters, getting hired, and doing good work for a few years at the company also qualifies you. Here's a (made up) list of salaries at a theoretical company to illustrate the reason why the second option is more economically feasible.

PhD: Masters
22000 (grad school) /15000 (grad school)
22000 /45000 (entry level engineering job)
24000 /48000
24000 /55000 (first promotion)
24000 /60000
50000 (entry level position) /65000
60000 (first promotion) /200000 (project leader)
65000 /210000
220000 (project leader) /220000

Starting from scratch, you get promoted faster and make more money as a masters student. If you, like the sociology profs friend, start your PhD and quit in the 5th year, you made a bad decision. If you never start in the first place, you made a good decision economically. I will say that studying those 6 years in a PhD program is fulfilling beyond the 22000 stipend, so in that way it could be worth it; but starting a PhD to increase your income makes no sense.

bjc219
Posts: 6
Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 12:27 am

Re: Interested in Alternative Energy Research

Postby bjc219 » Wed Aug 10, 2011 3:08 pm

For myself personally, the hard part is trying to find a balance of physics, engineering, and finding a niche with room for feasible progress.




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