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Are there no Master's programs with funding in the States?

  1. Dec 30, 2015 #1
    I'm Canadian and looking into quite a few different graduate programs in Physics. I am still quite open to different opportunities, and have found some interesting Master's programs (both MSc and MASc) here that are funded. But outside of Canada, I was looking into applying for graduate programs in the States as well. Most the programs I've found are for PhD positions and these are typically fully funded (with RA/TA duties in addition), but I've yet to come across Master's positions that are funded in the USA. For the most part, the Master's programs come with little to no funding from the respective institutions. My main hesitation to pursue a PhD program immediately is because I'm still unsure of the particular field I'd like to work in in the future, and I think exposing myself to different fields and then re-evaluating things in 2 years would be a good idea. I've heard of people stopping their PhD and leaving with a MSc, although this path seems a little less than ideal since I wouldn't want to leave my program on poor terms or go back on my initial agreement (i.e. to complete PhD-level work). I've also looked at other graduate programs (namely Master's in Europe) and these seem to require funding from independent sources, too.

    Ultimately, I'm just wondering what options students have in the States. If one pursues PhD programs, is leaving with an MSc looked down upon? Would starting a PhD in another field either at the same school or another one be looked down upon?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2015 #2
    You can get funding for a Master's in Canada?!
  4. Dec 30, 2015 #3
  5. Dec 30, 2015 #4


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    In Canada the graduate system tends to be: undergraduate -> master's -> PhD. In Canadian programs the master's degree is like a smaller version of the PhD - you do course work, but also have a research project that you later have to defend. And although there is less emphasis on the publication of results, it's typical to see a paper come out of a master's degree. The master's students are supported financially, but typically at a lower rate than PhD students. Some students will spend a year or so in the master's and then jump into the PhD, while others complete the MSc and then go for a PhD. Those who stay in the same general area/project for the PhD can usually complete it in less time than someone starting a PhD from scratch because they had less of a learning curve to climb.

    From what I understand in the US, the system tends to take PhD students more often directly from undergrad. They can have course-based master's programs, which are rarely funded. Or the master's degree is awarded for getting part-way throuh the PhD.

    If you are Canadian you might want to look into NSERC scholarship funding. It's been a long time since I've had to deal with it, but if I recall you might be able to use the funding to go to a US school.
  6. Dec 30, 2015 #5

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    As Choppy says, in the US there isn't the MS-PhD separation that one sees in Canada. In the US, it's not that big a thing to enter a graduate program intending to do X and then switching to Y.
  7. Dec 30, 2015 #6
    Thank you for the input! Yes, I definitely will be looking into NSERC funding since I do believe it can be taken abroad, but I need to check on that. Some schools also have very high tuitions in the states, so I'll need to scout which programs I apply to and what funding I plan to use carefully.
  8. Dec 30, 2015 #7


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    We tend to make a distinction between terminal master's degrees which are not intended to lead into a PhD, and master's degrees that are "picked up" as part of a PhD program. I think the first category is usually or often a specialized degree leading to industry or professional jobs (e.g. medical physics), or a credential for secondary-school teachers.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2015
  9. Dec 31, 2015 #8


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    To answer the OP's question: "Are there no Master's programs with funding in the States". Answer: YES THERE ARE!

    I visited DePaul university here in the Chicago area a couple of years ago. They have a small but well-run physics program with a terminal Masters degree. And yes, they do support their Masters students via TA jobs mostly, because they still need graduate students to run the labs and do gradings, etc. I suspect many similar programs throughout the US do the same thing.

    I wrote in my "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay on the "issues" that international student will be faced if they intend to actually do a PhD, but started out first by applying to do a MSc. You may think it is "easier" to first apply for a MSc program, and then apply for a PhD later (you are never guaranteed admission even within the same school, let's be clear on that!), but you will also be faced with new application procedures and fees, and dealing with your visa status. This is something that you should factor in.

  10. Dec 31, 2015 #9
    I also remember students back home being heavily against the direct-PhD route (wherever the option is available)...

    If you think you actually stand a chance at getting a PGS-M, you may also want to look into provincial funding, if any, as well as its stipulations. If you're a Quebec resident, you can take provincial funding (from Quebec) internationally. However, Alberta Innovates funding cannot be taken out-of-province even though non-Alberta residents can get them.

    Also remember that Vaniers (if you elect to go for a PhD after your masters is done) and CGS-M/Ds cannot be taken internationally, only the PGS-M/Ds can, as far as NSERC funding is concerned.
  11. Jan 16, 2016 #10
    I've heard research heavy schools that are small tend to provide funding for masters students. At larger schools there tends to be a lot of competition over the ta/ra jobs and the departments can be very cutthroat, but at smaller schools they need grad students because they don't have enough profs to teach, as well these schools tend to have a family like department.On the other hand smaller schools typically have less areas of research available.

    If your looking for schools that do fund, I know New Mexico Tech is a very good school for astrophysics and atmospheric physics. As long as you have a decent background, you should be able to get funding.

    Other schools that may offer funding;
    Georgia Tech
    Michigan Tech
    University of Alaska - Fairbanks.

    *Not sure, but Caltech I've heard that if you can get in, pays for everything in undergrad, not sure if it also applies to a masters....

    Another thing to consider is, if your unsure about what kind of research you want to do, instead of working on a masters, you may consider working in industry for a time.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2016
  12. Jan 16, 2016 #11


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    I'm currently in my first year of a PhD program in the U.S. and most of my fellow PhD students are still undecided as to whether or not they intend to leave after they earn their masters. If you think you may at any point want a PhD, apply to the PhD programs for the full funding and then decide after the first year whether you want to continue or bail with a masters.
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