Grad Studies FAQs

Over the years our engineering graduate studies recruitment events showcased the opportunities and need for postgraduate engineering leadership in Canada. Below are frequently asked questions at these events regarding the value of engineering graduate studies.

What is the advantage of having a Master’s degree in engineering?

A Master’s degree provides additional breadth and depth of knowledge that positions a graduate for technical leadership and specialization in industry. Research activities significantly develop skills such as analysis, resourcefulness, ingenuity, responsibility and perseverance. These skills make employees more successful and gives them greater opportunity to work on more interesting projects.

What is the advantage of having a PhD degree in engineering?

A PhD extends all of the advantages of a Master’s degree and greatly develops independence, creativity and flexibility. It also enables research and development opportunities in industry, government and academia. PhD holders tend to find their careers more interesting and fulfilling and are sought out for leadership roles in technical organizations.

What is the financial benefit of a graduate degree?

While further study does delay the start of significant income earning, postgraduate degree holders will generally start at a higher level and progress faster in their careers. The net result is significantly higher lifetime income.  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% for a Master’s and 35% for a PhD holder. Data from APEGBC over all engineering disciplines in British Columbia show respective increases of 9% and 19%.

What is the difference between a thesis and course-based Master’s degree?

In engineering, a course-based Master’s is intended to increase knowledge, generally to specialize technically or develop complementary skills (e.g. management). This degree is often intended for working professionals. The thesis-based Master’s will also 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.

How does the admission process work?

Unlike with undergraduate studies, 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.

What kind of experience do I need to get into a program?

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 mortgage, car payments, spouse, and kids), it becomes very hard to go back to school. Most people find it easier (and more efficient) to proceed directly from the undergraduate level.

What kind of funding is there available for graduate students?

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 part of the dialog with prospective supervisors.

What do employers value about engineers with graduate degrees?

While the technical abilities are essential, additional differentiating attributes of organization, independence, problem solving, fast learning, commitment, flexibility, leadership and communication skills are looked for in Master’s and PhD holders.

Are jobs harder to find with a postgraduate degree?

Specializing results in a better fit to a smaller number of jobs.  Short term opportunities will depend on the relevance of the specialty.  Careful choice of area is important, and adding breadth will create more options. In the longer term, your skills are more important than your specialty, and the better skills of postgraduate degree holders will serve them well.  US data[1] (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%.

Does Canada need more Master’s and PhDs in engineering?

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.  In terms of fraction of the population graduating with a PhD (in any field), Canada ranks 27th in the world, behind almost every other industrialized country and with rates less than half of our major European competitors.[2]  Of these PhDs, a relatively smaller fraction is in engineering than is typical of peer nations.  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.

[1] US Bureau for Labor Statistics for workers aged 25 and over, 2012. 

[2] OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2009.