Clean Energy 4 Africa

HigherHigher Education

Considering a masters or a Ph.D. in renewable energy? These two degrees can increase your career options and equip you with advanced knowledge and skills in several aspects of the renewable energy industry.

Considering a masters or a Ph.D. in renewable energy? These two degrees can increase your career options and equip you with advanced knowledge and skills in several aspects of the renewable energy industry. Having done a masters and a Ph.D., here are a few tips:

Is a masters degree right for me?

A masters degree program in a discipline related to renewable energy (engineering, business etc) is of two types:

  • A program that prepares you for a professional career, that is, prepares you to be a practicing engineer, or a manager in a consultancy firm, or a similar role. An example is MBA programs (master of business administration). A lot of universities now also offer MBAs with a special emphasis on energy such as The University of Aberdeen MBA Energy Management program or a track on energy such as the Energy Business Track in CMU (Carneige Mellon University) MBA program. An MBA can potentially boost your career outlook and develop your strategic thinking abilities. Have a look at this article in the Berkeley Hass School of Business MBA blog on the benefits of doing an MBA. I also highly recommend watching this video by Denis Sasal, former manager at PwC Consulting, on whether an MBA is right for you. It is important, however, to note that expert opinions are split about the usefulness of an MBA. This article from disucsses “The Personal MBA” book, by Josh Kaufmann, which is an excellent resources to get more insights on this topic.
  • The second type is a research-based program such a masters of science (MSc.) which typically takes 1-2 years and involves coursework and a significant individual research component. MSc. degree programs focusing on renewable energy, will go in depth in the theory and applications side, and will usually expose you to advanced analytical, computer modelling skills, and experimentation. Moreover, these programs will introduce you to scientific research (in preparation for doing a Ph.D. later on if you wish). There are several universities which offer specialized masters programs in renewable energy such as the Masters in Renewable Energy offered by the European-based InnoEnergy Master School and the Master of Renewable Energy program offered by the University of Malaya in Malaysia. Depending on the curriculum of each university, MSc. programs can also be very useful for students aiming for a professional career.

My verdict: before asking the question of whether a masters degree is right for you, ask yourself: where do I see myself in 5-10 years?

Are you interested in a professional career; working with engineering firms, or international consulting companies, or with utilities for example? If yes, then choosing a masters program that focuses on technical knowledge while also being multidisciplinary is probably a good choice.

If, however, you think that you are more into scientific research, or prefer working with universities and research institutions, then choosing a masters of science program (and maybe later on a Ph.D.) is more suitable.

In all cases, make sure you study the curriculum of the program you are applying to and ensure that it is interesting and will add sufficient knowledge and skills to you (equivalent to the time and money you will invest).

What about a doctorate degree?

Doing a PhD in renewable energy is a starting step in becoming an expert in a specific domain. At the end of that journey, you will have produced an original piece of work that solves a specific problem or adds new knowledge, read hundreds of scientific papers, written and published a few yourself, and presented at several conferences.

The career prospects for PhD holders are not at big as compared with experienced professionals, and hence, PhD holders usually end up working with universities, research centers, or R&D driven industries. In general, companies would prefer someone with 5 years of experience, for example, as opposed to a PhD holder who completed their program in 5 years. In consulting companies, an MBA is much more desirable and required than a PhD.

Having said that, you should always remember:

“Getting a PhD is really frickin’ hard!” – Thomas Seager

It requires investing a significant amount of time (typically 3-5 years), money, having a good adviser, good research facilities, lots of patience and determination, excellent time management skills, and some sacrifices in your social life as well!

Hence, you need to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Only then, will you have the strength and motivation to continue until the finish line. I recently read an amazing article on the accidental PhD student by Thomas Seager, associate professor at Arizona State University, which talks about about the wrong reasons some students have for doing a PhD that usually result in them quitting the program.