List of terminal master's programs?

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  • #1
Hello!

I'm a rising senior in undergrad, and grad school's on my mind. I want to get a better feel for research but don't want to fully commit to a PhD, and so one of my professors recommend I look into grad programs with terminal master's degrees—that is, schools that offer a physics master's and don't offer a physics PhD.

That way, master's students in physics have to receive funding because they're needed for research. (Paying for a master's is a dealbreaker for me— I won't jump into a program if I know I won't be compensated.)

My prof cited her undergrad institution, Miami University of Ohio, as one such example. I'm just not sure where to look for other schools— can anyone point me to a list?

Thanks in advance!
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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That way, master's students in physics have to receive funding because they're needed for research.
I am not sure that's true.

I want to get a better feel for research but don't want to fully commit to a PhD, and so one of my professors recommend I look into grad programs with terminal master's degrees—that is, schools that offer a physics master's and don't offer a physics PhD.
Why not apply to PhD schools that also offer an MS, and if you find you don't like research, take your MS and leave?

Also, I presume you will be doing research next year and maybe over the summer?
 
  • #3
Why not apply to PhD schools that also offer an MS, and if you find you don't like research, take your MS and leave?
I just don't want to have to lie or burn that bridge. Though I do understand that people do it all the time.
I am doing physics research this summer, and I'll try to pay very close attention to the things I like and don't like about it. I'm just afraid of making a 5+ year commitment.
 
  • #4
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I don't think you are lying, at least not based on what you wrote. It sounds like you are planning to get a PhD, provided grad school is as you expect. Everyone is in that boat.

Lots of people leave grad school after a year or two. Sometimes its not even their choice.
 
  • #5
It sounds like you are planning to get a PhD, provided grad school is as you expect. Everyone is in that boat.
Honestly I'm not sure what I want-- so I'm cautious about going straight into a PhD. That's why I'm interested in just a master's, if possible.
 
  • #6
symbolipoint
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Somebody should ask: What are any disadvantages if a terminal Master's degree graduate later wants to gain admission to a Physics pHD program?
 
  • #7
A fair question. So what would your answer be to that?
 
  • #8
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It sounds like your mind is made up. Pity, because the system is set up for you to enter a PhD program and drop out, not the other way around.
 
  • #9
It sounds like your mind is made up. Pity, because the system is set up for you to enter a PhD program and drop out, not the other way around.
Oh my mind's not made up at all! I guess I just have some reservations about leaving midway, just cause it feels unethical to me. I know there's really nothing wrong with that and people do it all the time, but I don't want to have to burn that bridge with an advisor if I don't have to. You know what I'm saying?
 
  • #10
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I think it's unethical to enter a PhD program planning to drop out. I don't think it's unethical to enter a PhD program unsure if you're going to finish. After all, that may not be your choice.
 
  • #11
Ah, I see. Well yeah, then the first option is what I'd like to avoid (enter PhD with the intent of leaving with the master's). But I don't want to go into debt for the experience. So what to do...?
 
  • #12
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If you entered a PhD program, what do you think the odds are that you would decide to finish your degree?

It's weird you're worried about burning a bridge to academia if you drop out of PhD. Kind of feels like that means you would end up not caring about that bridge that much
 
  • #13
That's a very reasonable question, and I'm not sure. The reason I don't see myself finishing a full PhD is that I don't want to spend the better part of a decade in a position where I can't comfortably contribute to retirement savings IF I decide not to do the academic track. So I think a paid master's, where I then decide to go onto a PhD (or not), would be the ideal situation.

I'm not worried about burning the bridge for academic reasons so much as personal. I know PhD advisors probably see it all the time, but even still, I'd hate to stab someone in the back like that.

So it's hard for me to answer that question definitively, but for now, I'll place my own odds of finishing a PhD at...less than 1/4.
 
  • #14
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Many years ago, I faced a difficult situation. I wanted to learn more and ultimately contribute to physics as a scientist, but I had a very low GPA as an undergraduate, although I did make the Dean;s list with a 3.4 GPA my final semester. I think my final GPA was a 2.2 or 2.3 even with the final semester. I do not remember.

I looked at all the graduate programs in physics and found which ones required the lowest GPA's and might accept me considering I had good GRE's in physics and the general, and my letters of recommendation were OK, and I did a REU.

Strangely enough, one of the schools I applied to was Miami University of Ohio. My plan was to build up my courses and evaluations and then maybe apply to Ohio State for my PhD. This was in the late 1970's.

As it turned out, I got accepted at schools with a stronger physics program that also offered a PhD. I never got to find out if my plan would have worked. If you are facing a similar situation, you might consider the feasibility of talking to the grad school with a doctorate first (in my case Ohio State), and see if they ever accept students with a masters from the school granting the terminal Masters (in my case Miami - Ohio).
I have to admit I did not do this, because I was prepared to carry out the plan whether or not Ohio State or other school with a doctoral program accepted me.

I like to think that schools with terminal masters programs can successfully prepare the "late-bloomers" for the arduous PhD programs. I often wonder if my plan to shift to a doctoral program after the masters at Miami-Ohio would have worked. Your advisor is likely giving you good advice.

Earlier, Gradschool shopper listed graduate schools in physics with their acceptance rates. I remember, Appalachian State, University Colorado-Colorado Springs, Southern New Hampshire having pretty high acceptance rates, but there may be others. Most of these did have only terminal master's programs. You can usually find this out by looking at the website and seeing if they offer the PhD program. It is also interesting that some schools with terminal masters also had low acceptance rates.
 
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  • #15
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I'm not worried about burning the bridge for academic reasons so much as personal. I know PhD advisors probably see it all the time, but even still, I'd hate to stab someone in the back like that.

If you drop out with a masters, you won't be stabbing anyone in the back. No professor will have invested significant time into you if you drop out after a year or two. Just to pick one example

https://www.physics.umass.edu/graduate/phd-timeline

Summer of second year (that's after your second fall and spring semester), you are required to pick a chair for the oral component of your qualifying procedure, who will typically become your research advisor. This person is not particularly invested in your career at this point. Different schools will have different timeliens, but there are plenty of school sout there where you can go through the first 18 months without getting anyone's hopes up that you will be their student.
So it's hard for me to answer that question definitively, but for now, I'll place my own odds of finishing a PhD at...less than 1/4.

I've heard that 50% of Phd students fail to get a PhD. This is going to fluctuate a lot depending on school, and subject, so I won't speculate what it is in physics specifically. If you go in with a 1/4 chance of getting a PhD, I guess that's worse than the average student, but not dramatically so.
 
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  • #16
Many years ago, I faced a difficult situation. I wanted to learn more and ultimately contribute to physics as a scientist, but I had a very low GPA as an undergraduate, although I did make the Dean;s list with a 3.4 GPA my final semester. I think my final GPA was a 2.2 or 2.3 even with the final semester. I do not remember.

I looked at all the graduate programs in physics and found which ones required the lowest GPA's and might accept me considering I had good GRE's in physics and the general, and my letters of recommendation were OK, and I did a REU.

Strangely enough, one of the schools I applied to was Miami University of Ohio. My plan was to build up my courses and evaluations and then maybe apply to Ohio State for my PhD. This was in the late 1970's.

As it turned out, I got accepted at schools with a stronger physics program that also offered a PhD. I never got to find out if my plan would have worked. If you are facing a similar situation, you might consider the feasibility of talking to the grad school with a doctorate first (in my case Ohio State), and see if they ever accept students with a masters from the school granting the terminal Masters (in my case Miami - Ohio).
I have to admit I did not do this, because I was prepared to carry out the plan whether or not Ohio State or other school with a doctoral program accepted me.

I like to think that schools with terminal masters programs can successfully prepare the "late-bloomers" for the arduous PhD programs. I often wonder if my plan to shift to a doctoral program after the masters at Miami-Ohio would have worked. Your advisor is likely giving you good advice.

Earlier, Gradschool shopper listed graduate schools in physics with their acceptance rates. I remember, Appalachian State, University Colorado-Colorado Springs, Southern New Hampshire having pretty high acceptance rates, but there may be others. Most of these did have only terminal master's programs. You can usually find this out by looking at the website and seeing if they offer the PhD program. It is also interesting that some schools with terminal masters also had low acceptance rates.
Wow, thank you. This is all very reassuring to hear.
I'm not so concerned that I won't get in to a place, it's just probably not going to be a top 10 physics school.
 
  • #17
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Just to pick one example

On that page it also says "Please note that students enrolled in the M.S. program are ineligible for teaching or research stipends at any of the Five Colleges." In bold.

master's students in physics have to receive funding because they're needed for research
The idea that there are a lot of physics RAs available at MS-granting institution is...um...not obviously correct. It is difficult to get a first-year RA at even an R1. Even a place like Creighton, which has a strong MS-only program, typically has far more TAs than RAs available.

The degree of external research support for a Creighton or a Miami of Ohio is not anywhere near a Harvard or MIchigan.
 
  • #18
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On that page it also says "Please note that students enrolled in the M.S. program are ineligible for teaching or research stipends at any of the Five Colleges." In bold.

But that place has a PhD program, I wasn't using it as an example of where to go to get a masters degree.
 
  • #19
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Have you considered looking into Master's programs in Europe, the U.K. and Canada where having a Masters before applying to PhD programs is the norm?
 
  • #21
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Getting paid to do a degree is usually harder outside the us, not easier, but you can give it a shot.
 
  • #22
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Have you considered looking into Master's programs in Europe, the U.K. and Canada where having a Masters before applying to PhD programs is the norm?
Do you know whether master's programs in these countries require coursework only or coursework plus some research (or does it depend on the university)?
 
  • #23
Getting paid to do a degree is usually harder outside the us, not easier, but you can give it a shot.
Why's that? Is it because undergrad in the US is less specialized than in other countries?
 
  • #24
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Why's that? Is it because undergrad in the US is less specialized than in other countries?

In the us, phds are typically funded by a government grant to the school or advisor that they spend on whatever students they want. In the uk at least, if you want you phd to be funded you have to apply directly to the grant agency, and this is somewhat independent of you actually getting a place in a school (for what it's worth I think the us model is superior). So you can get accepted into a phd program in the uk, and then you have to figure out if you're able to get funding to pay for it. At least for most science degrees in the us if you get accepted you have at least 5 years of funding attached


For undergrad it's obviously flipped, in the uk most expenses are covered for everyone by the government (though that's becoming less and less true) whereas in the us your funding is based on your ability (your parents ability) to pay for the degree.

I assume masters degrees get the worst treatment in both systems.
 
  • #25
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Do you know whether master's programs in these countries require coursework only or coursework plus some research (or does it depend on the university)?
Most M.Sc.'s are 2 year programs and require coursework + thesis. Some universities will allow strong students to fast track to a Ph.D. by skipping the required thesis and moving onto the Ph.D after having completed the coursework requirements. Some schools also offer "terminal" master's degrees in addition to the traditional master's for students not intending to pursue a Ph.D. Those types of programs generally require coursework + a shorter report rather than a thesis. As an example U of T offers 3 different options for their master's programs:

Students normally complete program requirements in one of three ways:

  • Option 1: Coursework plus MSc Research Report:
    • graduate lecture courses (3.0 full-course equivalents [FCEs]);
    • a Research Report, which consists of a 6000-series research course appropriate to the field of physics (1.0 FCE) and PHY 3400Y (1.0 FCE).
  • Option 2: Coursework plus MSc Research Project:
    • graduate lecture courses (2.0 FCEs);
    • a 6000-series research course appropriate to the field of physics (1.0 FCE);
    • a Research Project, which consists of a 7000-series seminar course appropriate to the field of physics (1.0 FCE) and PHY 3400Y (1.0 FCE).
  • Option 3: Coursework plus MSc Research Thesis:
    • graduate lecture courses (2.0 FCEs);
    • thesis


https://www.sgs.utoronto.ca/programs/physics/

With regards to the Ph.D. program they state:

Applicants may enter the PhD program via one of two routes: 1) following completion of an appropriate master’s degree; 2) direct entry after completing a bachelor’s degree.
 

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