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MS in CS or MS in IS

  1. Aug 25, 2009 #1

    I have just completed a BS in CS at a small state college. There were three different specializations within the BS, and I chose the Information Systems specialization because it would help me graduate faster (within four years). The IS specialization did not require any more difficult math than Discrete Math and Calculus 1.

    Basically, I am interested in attending graduate school but don't know whether to pursue Information Systems or Computer Science. I am currently working on a project that the project manager said he had graduate students from a nearby well-ranked research university working on. I am thinking if they can do it, perhaps can I. That is part of the challenge reason I am interested in attending graduate school. Other reasons I am interested in attending graduate school include the prestige of having a graduate degree and the opportunity to teach programming (which I would enjoy) at either the college or community college level.

    My composite GRE score is comfortably above the 1000 minimum that most good programs require. (Though I would have some competition for the best programs.) There should not be a problem there. For most CS graduate programs I am deficient in that I have not taken the required higher level undergraduate math classes and also in that since my BSCS specialization was in IS, I did not have to take some of the higher level undergraduate CS course that many graduate programs require. (I have however taken CSI, CSII, Data Structures, Software Engineering, and Assembly Language.)

    But when I consider that an MS in Information Systems can require a lot of programming too, and it requires few, if any, electives in my case, and it can result in my being able to pursue teaching opportunities, and, even, later on, a PhD program, the MS in Information Systems seems more appealing at times than a MS in Computer Science degree.

    Also I have noticed, and others on this forum have pointed out, that a lot of the major advances in Computer Science were actually brought into fruition by Electrical Engineers, Physicists, and mathematicians. If graduate training in Computer Science is not so much a requirement for making important research-based contributions to, well, Computer Science, then that would seem only to leave applied, non-research-based applications as the main focus of the field whose practitioners call it Computer Science. Moreover, I have noticed that a lot of Computer Science research is not done in journals but rather at conferences. Conferences seem to me to be more meet and greet, which is actually more suited for exchanges of applied, non-research-based knowledge in the field, but other sciences use journals predominantly for their most ground-breaking research, and journals, at least to me, seem more rigorous because they can be more easily subjected to more standardized methods for peer review. In most other sciences, to be published in a journal is a high water mark in someone's career but, oddly, in computer science attending conferences and writing articles seems to be enough. If CS is not the way to make major ground-breaking advances in CS, and if CS is only useful as an background for a) applied software engineering and programming work and b) teaching applied software engineering and programming work, and if I do not mind applied software engineering and programming work, would it not make more sense to forgo those prerequisite math and computer science classes that are prerequisites for the MS in CS and go for what would cost me the least amount of time and money, pursuing an MS in Information Systems?

    If anyone here has some insight that they might share that relates to my concerns expressed in the above paragraph, I would appreciate it.

    I have some more basic questions that some might be able to answer too:

    1. Is a MS in CS really a ticket to a higher salary? How does it compare to an MS in IS?
    2. Can you really get a community college or college teaching job with just an MS in CS or an MS in IS? (I can work in either the West or South.)
    3. Is "software engineer" really a career that will have staying power fifty years from now? I have seen that elderly doctors, accountants, and lawyers (those stereotypically stable, middle class professions) are still able to practice. As an 83-year-old will I be able to log on to HologramCraigsList and snap up a programming job at 25 dollars per hour, just like I currently can today on CraigsList? Or, for that matter, a $100,000 a year software engineering job, which I would like? Of course a computer science professor would seem to have some protection built in because professors have tenure and seem to increase in respect with age. I had a geology professor who was 86 years old and graduated with his BS in 1939; last I checked, he is still teaching general elective lab classes, with the assistance of his wife.



    P.S. I reside in the United States.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2009 #2
    This is funny. I just joined up in a low ranking upstart MS program with concentrations in CS and IS. My bachelors is in math (from a huge state school) with almost no programming work. Looking at your post, I had to stop and ask if there really is any effective difference between the two? I know they're both defined differently, but they're both acceptable for 99% of the jobs listed out there, and I think both pretty much give you the opportunity to teach at a college level. Although, most community colleges I've seen want you to have some professional experience in the field you're teaching (at least when it comes to CS and IS).

    And a lot of the decision will depend on your tastes. I have a huge interest in things like economics, finance, and business so I'm swinging towards IS. Computer science might contain some truly interesting fields though that you'd like to explore though.

    I'd say if you're really worried, see if you can get sort of a feeler interview with a local professional from one of the programs you want to apply to. Ask if you can buy them a cup of coffee, sit down face to face, and see what they have to say about the program, the industry, and the professions. It's also time to start getting a better idea of what you want to do with the degree and extra knowledge. You have to tell programs why you want to study there after all.

    And as far as math goes, you only need maybe 3 more courses tops in calc II, multivariate calc, and linear algebra. If you're going to do a PhD in any technical field in the future, get these out of the way now.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2009
  4. Aug 25, 2009 #3

    First of all, thank you for your reply.

    That is true, so I am already working on building up my professional experience.

    This sounds like a good idea. Incidentally, I have already met with a professor from the financially very flush Computer Science department at a University where my uncle is an adjunct Speech instructor, but their program did not appeal to me because of its geographical location and the general student atmosphere for the Uni as a whole. The good thing is that, starting now, I have six months to a year to gather all of the information I need.

    This is a very good point. I hope the graduate program I am interested in allows me to enroll prior to taking those classes you mention because that would save me time.

    I too have an interest in business and economics. Surprisingly, marketing turned out to be one of my favorite classes, which one would not necessarily think would be appealing to a science person. More business classes would be an advantage of having an Information Systems degree over a Computer Science degree. However one disadvantage would be that while many people may be able to do an MS in Information Systems, or an MBA for that matter, not everyone can do an MS in CS, so getting an MS in CS might be a better way to market that you have higher intellectual capital than the average college graduate.

    Again, thank you for your reply, AsianSensationK.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2009
  5. Aug 25, 2009 #4


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    In my area, southern California, most of the higher paying "programming" jobs are engineering related, tied to hardware such as computer peripherals (firmware, device drivers, ...), "black boxes" (protocol conversion peripherals, such as ethernet to iScsi), consumer products (cell phones, ...), ... Strong math skills aren't required for most of these jobs. Generally, there's something "unattractive" about the higher paying jobs, which is why they pay more. One example of "unattractive", would be a very specialize skill set tied to a specific type of application that wouldn't lend itself well to other jobs. The risk here is specializing in something that may not have a long term future, so there's higher pay to go along with this risk. Some companies are "unattactive" for other reasons (long hours, poor working conditions, programmer unfriendly environments, location of the job, ...), and they end up paying higher salaries to compensate for the otherwise "unattractive" jobs.

    There aren't a lot of high paying programming jobs that don't end up involving some form of management or engineering in my area.

    I'd recommend looking up something like monster.com or craigslist to see what kind of jobs and salaries are available today, and how many of these are "generic" as opposed to "specialized".
  6. Aug 26, 2009 #5
    CS grad school is often fairly mathematical, while I doubt that IS grad school has as much of an emphasis on math (but I could be wrong).
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