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Accelerated Master's Degree

  1. Mar 15, 2014 #1

    I'm thinking about future degree options and just realized my schools offers an accelerated Master's degree (1 year instead of 2) if I complete an honours thesis in my 4th year of undergrad. I was just wondering if this is looked down upon for potential PhD programs or for any other opportunities in general? I have also heard switching schools and doing your grad degree at another institution is always a good idea. Since this option is only offered at my school, is it still worth it or would it be better to pursue a regular 2 year Master's at another University? The two programs I am actually considering doing the accelerated Master's in are either Biophysics or Immunology. Does this kind of decision vary depending on program?

    I am actually strongly considering pursuing professional school and have heard it is a good option if I take that path, but have heard some concerns if graduate studies and future research is my ultimate goal. Any thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2014 #2


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    This thread might help:

    I think the answer may depend on your geography, somewhat.

    There are advantages to doing graduate work at a different school from your undergrad, but there can be disadvantages too, or advantages to staying. The notion that changing schools is somehow necessary or that not changing schools is frowned upon is baloney in my experience.
  4. Mar 16, 2014 #3
    Thank you. Definitely some good insight.

    I'm actually studying in Canada (Ontario more specifically) if that helps assessing my situation. The 1 year Master's just seems really appealing since it allows more flexibility but I'm just not quite sure if it's disadvantageous in any way or how PhD programs would look upon it. It's still a research-based Master's and is an extension of my 4th year honours thesis.

    I'm glad to hear that changing schools isn't all that important. I'm sure there are benefits of going to different faculties, but maybe I'd save that for further graduate work.

    This is getting very specific, but does anyone know much details about Western University's Medical Biophysics graduate programs or just any Medical Biophysics programs in general (in both Canada and the USA) and which ones are most highly sought after and why exactly? I am primarily looking at the CAMPEP certified option since this would gain me entry into clinical work if I am not mistaken. It would be great to have the perspective from a current student in one of these programs or a grad.
  5. Mar 16, 2014 #4


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    I tend to assess programs based on advantages and disadvantages. The key thing in medical physics right now (I'm a medical physicist) is to go through a CAMPEP-accredited program. There are some "bigger names" in the field of course... MD Anderson, McGill, Wisconsin... but that doesn't always mean better. What really matters is what you're looking for as a student and what your future goals are.

    Some schools are more clinically oriented, some are more research oriented, and some strike a nice balance. CAMPEP is making an effort to have all of its accredited programs publish the fates of its students - at least in terms of numbers. So for any program that you're considering, it's a good idea to check out where their recent graduates are ending up. Are they getting the kind of jobs you're interested in? You might also pay attention to the projects their current students are working on, what kinds of courses the students have to take, etc.

    As for doing the MSc, again it comes down to advantages and disadvantages. In Canada, since most MSc students are supported, my first question is whether or not you get financial support for that last year or not. If not, why would you pay for something you would otherwise get paid to do? I'm not sure it would save you any time in the long run. If you're planning to pursue medical physics, most of the MSc coursework from typical physics program won't count towards the didactic coursework needed for medical physics. Although some programs still require you to take some core graduate physics courses and you'd likely get overlap there.

    One advantage that I can think of is that an MSc in a different subfield is likely to give you a broader experience base and perhaps a stronger academic background that what you may get from some medical physics programs. This could be just the distinction that helps you land that first job in a competitive job market.
  6. Mar 18, 2014 #5
    Thank you for the input!

    The accelerated Master's would just help right now since I'm not currently closed in on pursuing Medical Physics solely in the future. I am still open to professional schools as well, and a 1-year Master's program would give me flexibility since most professional schools require you to be completed your graduate degree upon matriculation if you're already enrolled in one. Although the 1-year Master's seems to not have any stipends... :(

    It's still early but I think clinical work would be my main focus. Do you mind giving me a breakdown of your day and how interesting and enjoyable the work is? I know this is personal so feel free not to answer, but it would just be great to hear from an actual (clinical?) Medical Physicist's perspective since all I hear is that it involves a lot of work with imaging and machinery.

    I'm looking at Ryerson's and Western's programs at the moment, any thoughts?
  7. Mar 18, 2014 #6


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    A "typical" day varies considerably for me.

    Probably about 10-20% of my time is spent with "routine" clinical duties like checking/assessing treatment plans, reviewing QA results, performing QA tests or calibrations, or supervision of a physics assistant.

    The bulk of the clinical side of my work is more doing investigations into specific questions. For example, yesterday I spent a lot of time looking into the details of what's needed to take our treatment units from the state they are in right now to a state where they can be used for a type of treatment called stereotactic body radiation therapy. But this kind of problem solving can involve everything from working with our electronics technicians to diagnose and fix problems with our treatment units, to following up on computer or network issuse, to upgrading software, to developing or modifying procedures, or commissioning new equipment.

    One of the things I didn't really appreciate until I started working was how much time medical physicists can spend in meetings and sitting on committees. Medical physicists tend to speak a lot of different "languages" (radiation oncology, electonics, computer networks, equipment vendor, scientist, dosimetrist, radiation therapist, and administrator) so we tend to take part in a lot of meetings.

    On top of that I have academic duties, so I supervise graduate students, mentor residents, and teach classes. And when that's done, I get to do a little bit of my own research.

    I don't know much about Ryerson's program. I've met some very good people who've come out of London though.
  8. Mar 19, 2014 #7
    Thank you so much for the answers, Choppy! They've been helpful to say the least.

    If you don't mind me asking you another question: how did you know you wanted to become a Medical Physicist? I know I really like pure Physics right now, but I'm not sure if I'd like to just learn the content for pure enjoyment or if I'd actually like to enter the field. I'm slightly inclined on pursuing veterinary school currently and I'm just having trouble deciding what I really enjoy learning to decide what I'd like to with my undergrad and back-up plans. I know I like math, I like physics, I like biology, and I have not taken any computer science courses yet. I'm just not sure if these are things I'd like to take throughout University or if I'd rather just learn it on my own for enjoyment. The programs I am thinking about are Medical Biophysics and Pathology & Toxicology at Western University.

    By the way, Western has various streams for the Medical Biophysics concentration. One has a lot of Physics and Math involved and also regular biophysics courses, the other just has a lot biophysics courses. I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this already, but are there huge disadvantages or advantages to either concentration in terms of grad studies or work?

    Also, is there anything you would have done differently on your path to becoming a Medical Physicist, if given the chance? Anything a newcomer should know about the field at all, in terms of employment prospects or good opportunities to seek or anything else really?
  9. Mar 20, 2014 #8
    Also, do you have any thoughts on Western's 5-year MSc/PhD CAMPEP accredited degree? I already attend Western but am thinking about staying for this program and was wondering if you had any thoughts on this. Should I be looking at other schools for any particular reason, especially if my main goal is clinical work?
  10. Mar 20, 2014 #9
    Also, what kind of computer science background is necessary? Would you highly recommend taking programming courses in University or will everything be learned on the way?
  11. Mar 20, 2014 #10


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    Well, it's not like one day it just struck me and I knew that I absolutely wanted to be a medical physicist. I enjoyed physics. As an undergrad I leaned more towards the astro side of things and for my MSc I went into plasma physics. I did okay there, but knew it wasn't what I wanted to do for a living (and wasn't sure I could even if I had wanted to). I started attending weekly medical physics seminars with a post doc friend of mine who had an interest in medical physics. The more I learned about it, the more interesting I found the field. The professional side of it also appealed to me for several reasons. It provides a valued service that I was able to find a sense of purpose in. It led to a good balance between a stable job and academic freedom. It paid reasonably well and there was a high demand for qualified medical physicists (particularly at that time).

    I'm not that familiar with Western's programs. The people that I've met that have come out of there seem very well educated though. If you're talking about preparation for medical physics graduate school my opinion is that you need to go with a physics degree. Some (most?) programs won't look at you unless you have one - or equivalent. Supplement that with courses that interest you of course, but you need to have a solid foundation in physics.

    It's hard to say. I probably would have read more.and stressed less. It wasn't really until I finished my PhD that I really began to enjoy reading about stuff in my field. Part of that, of course was that I didn't have the vocabulary to understant a lot of academic papers, but you only develop that by reading. (And now there is so much more reference material online... you can find a primer/review article for just about anything.)

    It's a lot more competative today than it was when a lot of current faculty went through. You'll probably see a lot of MSc level physicists working, who did 2 years in grad school may or may not have done a residency and then entered a full time position. These days, you more or less need a PhD from an accredited program to get into an accredited residency. And then you get a job. You may have to do some post-doctoral work too.

    It's to your advantage to look around. Western is a good program, but when it comes time to apply you want to try and find the best fit for you that you can. This includes finding a project that you're happy working on, a supervisor you can learn from, an atmosphere you can work in, a city and school that's right for you, financial support, opportunities for clinical QA work, etc.

    You should come out of undergrad with a good foundation in programming. The language doesn't really matter, so much as having the ability to systematically manipulate large arrays of data. To give you an example, a project/assignment in an imaging class could involve reconstructing a CT image given some raw data from a scan.
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