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Masters necessary/unnecessary?

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Option 1: BSc(with Honours) (4 years) ---> PhD(overseas)
Option 2: BSc(with Honours) (4 years) ---> MSc (1 year) ---> PhD(overseas)

Until now I was considering taking option 1, but when I talked with my supervisor recently he advised me option2 with his reasons being:

1. For someone wishing to go to big named school it's much better idea to fully prepare,
2. research skills you obtain at masters level is valuable in PhD,
3. my current institution has obviously lower standard compared to top schools overseas

BUT I want to argue back by saying,
1. nobody's fully prepared and nobody's perfect and nobody knows everything BEFORE they enter PhD (and of course even after)
2. PhD programme in US for example is designed to accomodate people without MSc!
3. At masters level you do research but you don't take classes and I worry if that's going to sort of make you relaxed (I mean taking classes is intense)
4. I don't want to waste time getting old while doing MSc

Anyways, my supervisor says I'm not 'ready'. But again, who isn't?
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
372
0
Counter-counter-points:

1. True, but more preparation and experience can never hurt
2. Perhaps, but making yourself a better candidate must give you the edge in getting the PhD programme and destination of your choice
3. A good point. Valuable, but if you're a naturally lazy person (like me) could be dangerous.
4. Up to you, but think of it as another year doing what you enjoy - otherwise you wouldn't be here, right?
 
  • #3
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Usually, in the states, having a masters + PhD is equivalent to having just a PhD. If you don't have a master's prior to entering the PhD program usually the PhD program will just take longer. If you already have a masters then some of the coursework in the PhD is just shaved off.

Also, if you enroll directly into a PhD program some schools will give you a master's along the way to the PhD.

I have always been told (by my professors and ugrad research advisor) to just bypass the master's degree and just go for the PhD. The PhD is what matters, in the end.

And in the states, the master's level is nothing BUT classes, and there's a thesis you must write at the end that is basically unoriginal work. The PhD is when you start your research, but the PhD usually also has coursework requirements.
 
  • #4
I had hard time deciding over math or physics and now I am faced with another hard decision... Based on advices that I get, it's half half. Surely there are goods and bads for both options and if that's the case I might as well flip a coin and decide...
 
  • #5
ZapperZ
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Well, OK, I'll stick my nose into this.

Not knowing where you will be getting your degree from, there is a certain degree of ambiguity here in decided what you actually mean by "Masters" degree. There's a short discussion on this with regards to the UK's "undergraduate Masters degree", which in the US is an oxymoron.

[See https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=369373&postcount=8"]

So what you indicated as a "masters" degree may NOT the same of what a typical US institution call a "masters" degree. This is especially true when you indicated that the extra year you will have is mainly research with no classes. In the US, a masters degree involve graduate level classes, almost the same as you would take for a Ph.D program. That is why a Ph.D candidate can obtain a Masters degree along the way, because he/she is fulfilling the identical requirement for a Masters degree. So based on what you have described, I would hazard a guess that you're doing the "undergraduate masters degree" that UK institutions offer.

Will you be better prepared if you have that? I don't know. Your application will certainly look better with "one year of research", so it certainly won't hurt. However, you need to consider on how "extensive" of a research can one do in just a year. This certainly depends on where you go to school. Secondly, if you have excellent results from a respected school, you may already have a good preparation to start graduate school here in the US and prepare for the qualifying exam, which in reality, is all you should care about at this point beyond being accepted. Having an extra year of research may not do much in helping you pass the qualifier, since this exam typically tests your undergraduate physics knowledge, not your research skills.

Is there anything that prevents you from applying before you have to decide if you want to continue getting your Masters? You could just apply without it and see what happens. The worst that would happen is that you didn't get accepted, and continuing with your Masters might increase your chances. Of course, if you only apply to Harvard or Princeton and put all your eggs in that basket, someone should smack you on the back of your head! :biggrin:

Zz.
 
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  • #6
In commonwealth education system we have
BSc(3 years and equivalent to US BA 4 year system) --> BSc Honours (1 year of taking 'graduate' papers and we do a small research project) --> Masters (can take at most 2 graduate papers and we do a thesis) --> PhD (thesis)

Now, from my understanding 'undergraduate: BA(4 years)' in US corresponds to BSc(3 years) in the above sequence. So in a way I'm doing far more than what US students do by the time they apply to PhD.

Of course, in top schools students will generally know more than average students so extra factor comes in. I'm not sure if my supervisors know US systems though because they all came from Europe and I think they are expecting me to go to UK rather than US. And by the way, I probably won't go to physics graduate school.
 
  • #7
Dr Transport
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Usually, in the states, having a masters + PhD is equivalent to having just a PhD. If you don't have a master's prior to entering the PhD program usually the PhD program will just take longer. If you already have a masters then some of the coursework in the PhD is just shaved off.

Also, if you enroll directly into a PhD program some schools will give you a master's along the way to the PhD.

And in the states, the master's level is nothing BUT classes, and there's a thesis you must write at the end that is basically unoriginal work. The PhD is when you start your research, but the PhD usually also has coursework requirements.
Many schools will not shave off courses if you already have a Masters, transfer of credits between schools is difficult.

True, you get a Masters on the way to a PhD, usually by passing the requirements for enrollment into the PhD program, i.e. the qualifying exams.

In many schools, there are thesis options and non-thesis options for a Masters degree and the requirements vary from school to school.
 
  • #8
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Hi there mate (and I have a pretty good idea who you are :wink: ).

It really depends on where you want to do your PhD (seeing as expectations for incoming students are different) and how extensive your research projects in your honours year is.

I think the path I followed was a pretty good preparation for a PhD

2 years kandidaat (= your 3 years bachelor)
1 year licenciaat taking graduate courses
1 year licenciaat taking courses & doing a Master's thesis

Credit wise the thesis counted for 1/3rd of the last year, but in practice I spent about 70-80% of my time doing it. I would advice you to compare that to your research project in your honours. If it's comparable, I think you can skip the master year. If it's not, I would go for the master's.

Please note that this advice is in case you'll go to the EU for your PhD. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the US system to offer advice there.
 
  • #9
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Well, the US system seems much different than the EU system. Here, the undergrad is 4 years (usually minimum), and that's when you get your bachelors. Then one can do a masters and PhD, or they can go directly into a PhD program, but both paths usually take an equivalent amount of time. Also, usually if you bypass the masters degree and go directly to the PhD the school will give you a masters along the way.

Also, the masters is usually all graduate coursework (~2 years) and sometimes there will be a thesis which consists of unoriginal work (and sometimes original work).

The PhD is about 2 years of coursework and then you work on your original research (which could take 2 or more years).

So, if you were a US citizen, I recommend hands down that you skip the masters and go directly to the PhD, since in the PhD you are often eventually given a masters, since if you decide to bail after the first 2 years, you can still go home with something to show for your work. Also, it is harder to get financial support as a masters student than it is as a PhD student. Almost all PhD students have tuition waivers and 13-18k/yr stipends. This is much less common for masters students.
 

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