Why consider undertaking a higher degree
Higher degrees, such as the MEngSc(Res) and PhD, are increasingly becoming an important way for engineering graduates to differentiate themselves in the employment marketplace. Similarly, employers ascertain the quality of job applicants by assessing educational qualifications in the first instance. Postgraduate qualifications give individuals a `competitive edge' enabling them to successfully make the transition from engineering student to engineering professional.
One indicator of the level of acceptance of postgraduate qualifications as being `the norm' is the increase in both enrolments and the number of Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses over the past twenty years or so. For engineering graduates in the United States the current trend is to continue studying towards a Master's degree almost as a matter of course. In today's global business environment these overseas trends have an impact locally on Australian-based students.
Undertaking study towards a PhD is often more intellectually challenging and stimulating than some graduate jobs in industry. Anecdotally, some high-achieving undergraduate students, who enjoy the intellectual stimulation of university life, are sometimes disappointed after entering the workforce following their first degree. Completing a PhD is also likely to result in more intellectually challenging employment opportunities.
Pursuing personal and professional goals
Students often feel they have had enough of university after completing their undergraduate degree. But it is worth noting that a higher degree by research is very different from an undergraduate degree. For a start, there are very few formal coursework requirements, which means no timetabled classes and no cramming for examinations. In addition, instead of being taught a set curriculum, research involves immersing oneself in an area of real interest and learning new things in a way that suits the individual. By reducing the restrictions on a postgraduate student's time they have the scientific freedom to set and manage their own research work plan and daily schedule.
International experience, knowledge and networking
A higher degree offers advantages to individuals seeking to be recognised as a global engineer, initially through attendance at international conferences during their candidature and afterwards through greater scope for international career opportunities. The university contributes substantially to travel expenses for one international conference during each candidates research program.
As for the disadvantages, a key drawback is financial! The (tax-free) postgraduate scholarship typically pays less than most graduate jobs - but hey, you only live once! But remember that what you do now, for the next three years, may affect the following forty years of your life.
Additionally, starting salaries for people with a postgraduate qualification tends to be significantly higher.