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Should I Pursue an MBA or an MEM?

by Olufisayo
MBA or an MEM

Many engineers consider entering the world of management after garnering years of experience in their chosen field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one of two specific master’s degrees is required to enter the field of engineering management. A Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) has been the standard for individuals who wish to enter management for years.

However, in recent years a Master’s in Engineering Management (MEM) has gained recognition in the field of engineering. This degree was first offered by the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 1967.

Since then, it has spread to every major university and college that offers engineering programs. It is widely seen as an alternative to an MBA, however engineers still find themselves facing the question, “Should I pursue an MBA or an MEM?” According to the BLS findings, either option will help you move into a management position. Which one you choose depends on your personal career goals.

MBA or an MEM

When to Pursue an MBA

An MBA is considered standard in the world of management. Pursuing this degree is ideal if you want to refocus your career into a non-technical field. MBAs are widely known in every industry and gain more respect from hiring managers if you decide to switch careers. According to a 2011 poll of alumni from the Kenan-Flagler Business School, 31% of MBA graduates found employment in the finance industry, 18% found work in marketing, 16% worked as consultants and only 1% worked in information systems. There was no data available specific to the engineering field. This data illustrates that none of the polled alumni sought employment in engineering.

According to DaiannaKaraian, an alumna of the Kellogg School of Management and contributing writer for The Economist, her MBA proved useful. She states she had a clear vision of exactly what she wanted to do before she enrolled in the program. When she graduated with her degree, she was entirely focused on that vision. She does not recommend entering an MBA program with a broad goal of climbing a corporate ladder.

Karaian’s experience can directly help you make your decision. Will an MBA fit precisely with your vision for your career?

When to Pursue an MEM

According to the BLS, an engineer that is hired into management showcases excellent communication skills, technical knowledge and leadership potential. All of these characteristics are nurtured through the course of an MEM program. Each college and university will have their own course load, however MEM courses generally include:

  • Applied mathematics
  • Engineering project sequencing
  • Engineering Management (decision making, marketing and corporate finance)
  • Various Engineering Management Electives (chemical process decision, manufacturing design and entrepreneurship)

John du Plessis, the CEO of Spesmet Technology, stated that his MEM degree helped him to attain several managerial promotions within the technical industry. He further states that a non-technical company will prefer an MBA, while technical companies appreciate the value of an MEM. An MEM degree will provide opportunity for an engineer to advance in his current field. You will continue to work in the engineering field and help manage other engineers. An MEM should be pursued when you have a passion for engineering and wish to further your advancement opportunities.

Which One Should I Pursue?

When it comes to deciding on an MEM or an MBA, it ultimately boils down to your passions and career goals. If you have a genuine passion for your field of engineering, an MEM is likely a good decision. You will further specialize in your area of interest and be groomed for an eventual promotion into management.

Alternatively, an MBA is ideal if you would like broad training in the world of business and management. This training will be applicable to essentially ever industry, so if you are considering a field change at any point down the road, pursuing an MBA may be a good decision.

Before you make any firm decision, thoroughly consider your future career goals. Both an MBA and an MEM carry high tuition costs, so it is wise to have a clear vision of what you will be doing with your master’s degree. If you are an engineer who is currently employed, it may be worth discussing this decision with your manager—they likely faced the same quandary when they were pursuing their education.

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Raul October 15, 2012 - 9:34 PM

Each degree has a lot to say for itself. Tuition, for me, is a huge factor when looking at options regarding education and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Elijah Grey October 23, 2012 - 6:38 PM

I always thought, across the board, an MBA would be a good all-around degree for business in general and all industries. It’s good to know that this may not be the case for more technical fields. Very good article with relevant info for those of us thinking about pursuing a Master’s degree.

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