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!

Programs Does one commonly get a masters degree before a phd

  1. Oct 11, 2012 #1
    If you were getting a PhD in either pure math or physics, with the intention of becoming a professor, does one first need to get a masters degree before their PhD, is it different for the two fields?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2012 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    In physics, in the USA, you normally enter a PhD program directly after finishing a bachelor's degree. The first two years are mainly coursework (usually along with some research work), after which you can, if you like, "pick up" a master's degree. Then you work on your dissertation research for 3-5 years and end up with your PhD. Standalone masters' degree programs are usually "terminal" degrees that are not intended to lead into a PhD program.

    In other countries the master's and PhD programs are usually separate, and you complete a master's degree before entering a PhD program. The same may also be true in some other fields in the USA; I don't know about math specifically.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2012
  4. Oct 11, 2012 #3
    you can get a terminal MS in physics if you have the following goals:

    are not a physics major and want to transition to physics PhD

    physics BS but had a bad grade and want to make up for it

    you want to do interdisciplinary stuff like say biophysics, and have a biology or biochemistry degree

    you want to do interdisciplinary non-pure physics subjects like chemical physics or materials science

    you want to work in industry in a higher level role than a BS but without a PhD

    you want to teach high school
  5. Oct 12, 2012 #4
    And in Europe the standard approach is indeed that you first finish a Master's (or equivalent, like physics Diploma in Germany), and upon completion, either chose to go into industry or start in a PhD program.
  6. Oct 12, 2012 #5
    Europe has something called the "erasmus system", at least in most EU countries. It goes like this

    Bachelors - 3 years
    Masters - 2 years
    PhD - 3 years

    Apparently they tend to stick to that as much as they can. Sometimes when I hear people talk about physics PhD's taking 7 - 9 years, I assume they are including 2 years that in Europe would be consumed with the masters.

    In North America, however, I've recently begun encountering more students who 'pick up' masters degrees here and there to boost their CV when it comes time to apply into PhD programs. These students were from industrial biochemistry and medieval art (unfortunately that's not one field), however, so maybe the masters degree - accumulation isnt as big in physics.
  7. Oct 12, 2012 #6
    Um, no. The ERASMUS program is for undergraduate student exchange among universities in the EU. (which I am currently taking part in :))

    Masters are 1-2 years long and PhD's are 3-4 years, you will find many exceptions to the rule. Also it is not compulsory to get a Msc. before a PhD at every institution in the EU, but some do require it, and there exist some institutions called doctoral training centers which admit BSc's which have some compulsory coursework.

    The Bologne accord is what most EU universities have converged to or are in the process of converging to: a 3 year undergraduate bachelors running on the ECTS credit scheme. Some countries like Spain however still have a 4 year bachelors despite having converted to this system (up until recently, undergraduate degrees were 5 years in duration).
  8. Oct 12, 2012 #7
    THATS what I was thinking about. Erasmus is where you travel Europe to various student residences to sample their drinking games. Bologna Accord is the structure for said travels ;)
  9. Oct 12, 2012 #8
    ERASMUS = European Regional Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. It's when you travel to a different university to take 1 or 2 semesters worth of courses to be recognized back at your home institution.

    Bologne accord = The shiny new "unified" educational system for universities in the EU. Course credits run on the ECTS credit system where each credit corresponds to some fixed number of "work hours". A Bachelors = 180 ECTS, 60 ECTS per year (240 ECTS in Spain).

    Doesn't explain much though, because 60 ECTS at my home uni meant 20 hours of lectures per week for 20 weeks (2 semesters/10 courses). Where I am at now (in the UK), it means 15-16 hours of lectures for 16 weeks (2 semesters/8 courses). I have to go well over the ECTS norm in the UK just to fulfill graduation requirements.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2012
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook