1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Difference in MS and PhD?

  1. Jan 9, 2015 #1
    What would you say is the main difference between Phd and Masters only programs in physics?
    Is the course work less rigorous? Or is it just less courses all together?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2015 #2
    This is only a partial answer, but:

    I'm currently in a PhD program. My university (like many others in the US) doesn't offer a masters program, only a PhD program. The PhD program is structured as follows:

    1. Take two years of classes
    2. After satisfying course requirements, or somewhere in the middle of this process, find a research group and identify an advisor
    3. Advance to candidacy by taking a qualifying exam. This means you're ready to complete your thesis work
    4. Do a thesis's worth of research
    5. Write your thesis and get a PhD

    You can opt to get a masters degree along the way, however, after you've completed a sufficient number of courses. All you have to do is ask the department for it. I think other schools (if they have a masters program) will require you to write a thesis, but it is less than what is expected of a PhD thesis. My understanding is that a masters thesis is kind of a synopsis of stuff people already know whereas a PhD thesis is supposed to be original work that extends a field of research.

    Like I said, this is only a partial answer.
  4. Jan 9, 2015 #3
    Thank you for the input. partial is still helpful!
  5. Jan 9, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    That is an interesting discussion. With that, a masters degree and a bachelors degree seem like the same thing. Maybe the two levels should be combined into just one type and called just university degree. No original research was needed. My way of thinking is not the fullest understanding about bachelor's and master's degrees.
  6. Jan 9, 2015 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    A lot can depend on the location.

    In Europe, my understanding is that a master's degree is a lot more like a bachelor's degree with an extra year or so of courses added on. In Canada, a master's is more like a smaller version of the PhD - about a year of course work and then a thesis project. In the US, the master's degree is more commonly awarded for partial fulfillment of the PhD requirements.

    In my experience (Canadian) the separation lies more at the level of independence the student takes on with a project. The master's level is generally accepted to demonstrate the student's ability to understand advanced concepts in the field and conduct directed research. That means that through a master's project the supervisor will play a significant role in designing and directing the project. (That's not to say that MSc projects are never independent.) At the end of the PhD, the idea is that the candidate is recognized as being able to conduct independent research in the field. I tell my PhD students that I expect by the end of their projects they should be leading all aspects of the investigation from initial plan to final write-up and I transition from the roll of mentor to a peer collaborator.
  7. Jan 10, 2015 #6
    PhD is a job where you do scientific research for four to five years, generating several articles worth of publishable material. In the end all this is combined in your doctoral dissertation and you are promoted to doctor. You won't be taking courses anymore, but you will be a teaching assistant.

    The MSc is the education that prepares you to take on this challenge. You get more specialized courses building on your 3 year BSc foundation but also has courses/projects/thesis/internship where you do research with safety bars on. If you are lucky and at a good school you can publish your MSc thesis results (or even your BSc thesis, in rare cases)
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2015
  8. Jan 10, 2015 #7


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    In the US, there are also terminal master's degrees which are not part of a PhD program and which include a thesis project, similar to your description for Canada. At least in physics, these are not generally intended for students who plan to pursue a PhD.
  9. Jan 10, 2015 #8
    My options in the US include,

    Master of Arts
    The M.A. degree requires 30 hours and master's thesis. M.A. students take 24 hours of approved course work and 6 hours of thesis. At least 15 of the required 24 hours must be from the year-long graduate sequences in algebra, analysis, and topology. In addition, students must demonstrate foreign language proficiency and defend their thesis at a final oral examination. More information and the precise degree requirements for an M.A. may be found in the UNT Graduate Catalog.

    Master of Science
    Students pursuing an M.S. degree take 36 hours of approved course work, including at least 15 hours from the year-long graduate sequences in algebra, analysis, and topology. Students are also required to demonstrate a proficiency in computer programming equivalent to that acquired in a 6-hour introductory course and to either make a formal presentation of a master's project or take a final oral examination. More information and the precise degree requirements for an M.S. may be found in the UNT Graduate Catalog.

    Doctor of Philosophy
    UNT requires doctoral students to complete 72 hours of graduate work beyond the bachelor's degree or 54 hours of graduate work beyond a master's degree. Doctoral students are required to pass qualifying examinations in two areas chosen from algebra, complex analysis, real analysis, and topology. The departmental provisions concerning the qualifying examinations may be found in the Qualifying Examination Policy. Students must also demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language, write a dissertation, and take a final comprehensive oral examination, which is primarily a defense of the dissertation. More information and the precise degree requirements for a Ph.D. may be found in the UNT Graduate Catalog.

    Its the same for the physics department except the MS has a third option which is to conduct research on an already existing study.
  10. Jan 10, 2015 #9


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Many of those "extra" hours must be for dissertation research. When I was a graduate student, after I finished the required coursework (two years), I needed to take only one classroom-based course every two semesters, and registered for "dissertation research" for whatever number of hours was needed to maintain my student status.
  11. Jan 10, 2015 #10
    Correct. Some students teach classes from College Algebra - Calculus II. There are a lot of specialty classes that students take in their respective branch but most of the time it's dissertation hours.
  12. Jan 10, 2015 #11


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Understanable conceptual explanation!
  13. Jan 10, 2015 #12
    In my math PhD program, it seemed to me the masters was pretty much trivial compared to the PhD. You get accepted, stick around for 2 years, without failing any classes and you get the masters. The classes are usually not graded that harshly, even though they are very difficult, so this is relatively easy for most people who get accepted to program. The PhD only involved a little bit more coursework. The main thing was passing an oral exam and the dissertation. Masters with thesis is a little more substantial, but they didn't have that in our program.
  14. Jan 10, 2015 #13
    My understanding is that a Master's degree in physics is usually sought by people who need to be good at physics for a job but are not looking to be professional physicists, such as engineers or game programmers working directly with graphics engines, and the occasional economist. Alternatively, a Master's degree prepares you for PhD-level coursework, and in the US many PhD programs also include the Master's degree (as in, you will do 2 or 3 years of Master's-level coursework and then unceremoniously go directly from there to the PhD coursework in the same program).

    You get a PhD in physics if you want to actually be a physicist or physics professor.
  15. Jan 12, 2015 #14
    MS : Engineer
    Phd: Scientist or (more likely) an engineer.

    Basically the difference is that you have a shot at being a scientist if you get a PhD. However, it is more likely that in either case you will end up as an engineer earning about the same amount of money and doing the same work.

    If you truly love the field, get your PhD. The worst you could do is the best if you only get your masters. If you are only looking for a job, the masters is A LOT easier.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2015
  16. Jan 14, 2015 #15
    Would you say that the coursework would be easier in general than that of a phd program?

    Meaning if I took Quantum Mechanics I and II our of Sakurai at an ms program would it essentially be the same course as in a phd program?
  17. Jan 14, 2015 #16
    Not sure where you go to school but it should be the same course. There is undergrad QM and grad QM. All grad students take the same coursework, at least anywhere in the US that I've been. PhD students continue on to dissertation research after coursework.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook