Will a Master’s Degree Get You Where You Want to Go?

Graphic of an academic diploma that states "Master of Science" and graduation capGetting the right degree for the career you want is not as easy as you might think.  Many believe a PhD is always better than a master’s degree.  However, depending on what you want to do, having a master’s degree can put you in a better position to get a job.  Just like any decision, it is important to consider all the factors before making a decision on which degree is best for you.  There are distinct differences between most master’s degree programs and PhD programs.

Degree Purpose: In general, a PhD program is not designed to get you a job. It is designed to train you to be a researcher and to contribute something novel to your field.  A master’s degree program is designed around the job market.  Most master’s degree programs aim to train a “marketable workforce,” with assignments that mimic the functions of professionals in the field.

Time to Completion: Master’s programs are on average one to two years.  A PhD is usually much longer, averaging four to seven years to complete depending on your field of study.

Student Body: Since master’s programs often tailor class offerings around the schedule of a working adult, your classmates are likely to be current professionals in your field.  Because of this, they provide a great network for finding employment.  In a PhD program, your “classmates” are likely to be dedicated researchers whose day-to-day lives are very similar to yours.  It is still important to build a network with your peers — that network will ultimately prove to be valuable.

You will also want to make sure you know the different types of master’s degrees that are available.  There are three main types of master’s degrees in the biomedical sciences.

Master’s of Science – Field:  These are knowledge driven degrees that are designed to provide an advanced education in a broad scientific discipline such as genetics, biochemistry, virology, etc.  These programs often have a research component that make them attractive to those interested in a research position either in academia/government or industry.  They provide students with a deeper understanding of the entire field as opposed to teaching specific skills or techniques.

Master’s of Science – Specialty: Skills-driven approaches have become increasingly popular.  Master’s degree programs in specialized disciplines such as biotechnology, bioproductions, regulatory affairs, etc. are designed to prepare you to do a specific job with little additional training. The curriculum is heavily project-based which gives students the experience of performing job duties typically required in the workplace.

Professional Master’s:  A hybrid of the other field and specialty based programs, degrees like the Master’s in Public Health or Public Administration are knowledge and skill driven programs that prepare students to apply their knowledge to a broad range of professions.  These degrees often have sub-specialties to better prepare students for jobs in their desired sectors.  An example of such is the Professional Science Master’s.

Getting a master’s degree is not settling for something less than a PhD.  In fact, many B.S.- and M.S.- level positions are growing in industry. They are different degrees that serve different purposes.  You have to decide which one serves your career aspirations best.

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One Response to Will a Master’s Degree Get You Where You Want to Go?

  1. Roland Owens says:

    It is important to speak with people who are where you want to be 5 or 10 years from now to find out what degree is most useful for you.

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