Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Curious about differences btw masters and doc thesis

  1. Jul 7, 2007 #1


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    What are the fundamental differences in the nature of the work done in a master's thesis and a doctorate thesis?

    I'm guessing there is less help provided by the advisor at the doctorate level and also that the "difficulty" level is higher at the doc level because the doctorate student has more knowledge and can work on a more specialized subject (like matt grime's old sig, "high school: advanced algebra, ..., doctorate: tiny portion of a tiny subject in algebra").

    Also, I recall a vague memory where I read/heard that at the doc level, you have to make the topic you're working on advance "significantly" for your thesis to be accepted. Whereas, what? In a master's thesis you are only required to work on a topic and present your work, and its value is judged subjectively?

    What else is different btw the two?

    (Let's limit the discussion to mathematics and physics thesis.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2007 #2
    Masters thesis, you dont have to be right. You can show from your work that what you started out doing turned out to be wrong.

    PhD thesis, you have to be right. You come up with an idea and show that it works.

    Some places like MIT require that even your masters thesis be correct. At least, thats what I've heard.
  4. Jul 7, 2007 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    You are at Université de Montréal, if I recall? I am asking because the requirements for a Master degree at a French Canadian university (I went to Laval) versus at an american university (I got my Master degree and PhD at Cornell) are very different.
  5. Jul 7, 2007 #4
    Also, I know a PhD must be original work.
  6. Jul 7, 2007 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Sorry if I was mistaken or this was too personal a question.

    At Cornell, the master degree did not involve an actual thesis (as long as one was going on to the PhD). Basically, once I passed certain required courses and passed some qualifying exams, I was awarded a MSc. At Laval, in Quebec city, people had to present a full thesis fo rthe Master degree. Usually it involved mostly a comprehensive review of a certain specific topic as well as some independent work but if I recall, it was not critical to have produced something really new or conclusive. Basically, someone had to have mastered enough a specialized topic to have been able to reproduce some important results in the field and to have tried something new. The PhD requires to have completed something new that is judged to be significant.
  7. Jul 7, 2007 #6
    IIRC, not all masters programs require a thesis by the way.

    I know in most schools here in Ontario, a M.ASc. (master of applied science) requires some coursework + thesis, while a M.Eng. (master of engineering) requires only coursework. I would assume similar distinctions exist in other masters programs.
  8. Jul 8, 2007 #7
    This is the fundamental difference.
  9. Jul 11, 2007 #8
    MSc vs. Phd thesis (in Canada and the US)

    I did original research for my MSc thesis at UBC and produced a 100-page thesis. I spent almost 1 year day and night working on the thesis research and several papers came out of it. So I would say that it does depend on both the country and the university. In some schools what separates a Master's thesis from a Phd one is a couple of years of more work.

  10. Jul 11, 2007 #9


    User Avatar

    Definitely depends on country.

    My Masters students are doing work of PhD quality -- which will be published (Netherlands). Their theses are typically over 100 pages long.

    If they had three years instead of one, they could easily be turned into PhDs.
  11. Jul 11, 2007 #10


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    What would stop any Master's degree student from conducting original research?
  12. Jul 11, 2007 #11
    Now, how could such a MSc thesis from Canada be leveraged to get into a Phd program in a good US school?

    (Most people in the US seem to think that a Master's education consists of merely taking a few graduate level courses and therefore don't put much weight in it when applying for a Phd program. Some even require that the MSc be re-done when continuing on for Phd after an interruption of several years.)

  13. Jul 11, 2007 #12
    It's mainly a depth issue I think.

    I'm doing my MSc in the UK (by research) and my dissertation is effectively an indepth overview of current literature, with "hints" of novel research areas to investigate (some of wish I have looked into in my dissertation a little).

    There is a MASSIVE difference between a taught MSc with a small research project and a dedicated research masters however.

    I'm a maths PG rather than physics though. So it might well be different in Physics.

    In my area lots of PhD's are around extending a professors research to a specific area where it can not be applied. For example a methods for work on data sets which have missing observations.

    Masters by research, IMO, can be very challanging if done in one year. It can take a considerable time to learn the literature and scientific computing proceedures before you are even ready to do any research.

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook