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Physics M.S in Physics with thesis vs without

  1. Oct 7, 2016 #1
    I am on the last stretch of my B.S in Physics. I have been accepted into graduate school at my university, however they have two M.S programs in physics, one with a thesis and one without. I expect the more traditional route would be the thesis program but I am uncertain of the advantages and disadvantages between the two. I am unsure if I will continue with my education into my Ph.D or go straight into industry. At the moment I am currently 50/50 between the two.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    The one without is usually a dissertation masters .... a thesis means that you will have a record of an original contribution to the field so it usually carries more prestige. You'll also be one up on those BS(hons) and year-1 PhD students. There is usually more of a chance to publish too ... however, a dissertation can be more structured, have more varied work (thesis work can get very ocd inducing), and you can get more freedom in what you specialise on. All this depends on the college.

    Whichever you choose - the work is a whole order of magnitude tougher than the bachelors ever was ... you will have no life: so pick something you are likely to enjoy.

    Bottom line you need to look carefully at what is involved in each course and if you can change half-way through. Talk to the MS people in your college.
  4. Oct 7, 2016 #3
    Thank you for the excellent advice!
  5. Oct 18, 2016 #4
    (a) A word of caution here. Terms such as "thesis" and "dissertation" mean different things (sometimes opposite), depending on the country, and, even within the same country, on the college or university. When I got my bachelor's in physics (in the US) many moons ago, I was required to complete a thesis, which, at my school, meant an original research project. That was a rarity. Recently, I talked to a student who was required to complete a thesis for her bachelor's thesis in physics at a small US college. I was surprised. But turned out that her "thesis" was essentially a term paper, in which she read texts and research papers in depth, and then wrote a summary paper.

    So, if your "thesis" requires original research, there can be value, since you get actual research experience, which can be valuable in determining whether you want to go for a PhD and which can be valuable as experience listed on a resume, in case you decide not to pursue a PhD: you learn a lot more doing actual research, rather than just taking courses. But if the "thesis" is essentially a term paper, I wouldn't bother.

    (b) That said, in the US, a MS Physics doesn't amount to much. A MS in EE, ME, or CS can prepare you for a career as a lead design engineer. But if you want a career as a principal in physics-related R&D, you will typically need a PhD in physics (there are always exceptions). In my grad school, we got the MS simply upon satisfactory passing of 1 yr of required grad courses. It was really a consolation prize for students who failed to pass their qualifying exam (this term also varies by country and university; at my school, it was a comprehensive written exam based on the required first yr grad courses. You were given two shots at it.)
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