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Online MS in applied maths or physics

  1. Jul 25, 2012 #1
    Hi all,
    I am an engineer and I would like to take an online master in applied mathematics or physics - I am interested in several subjects in both field, so right now I am open to either choice.

    To prevent common comments I saw in other post, let me point out I hold a PhD in Aerospace engineering, have several years of experience as researcher, and have a good background in maths. I was teaching assistant (in a top university) for several courses that were offered to Campus and online students, so I know that distance learning can work well, at least in engineering.

    What I do not know, is which top universities offer online courses in maths or physics. I spent hours looking for options, but looks like most good universities only offer online courses in engineering schools, if any.

    Only options I found so far are Columbia and Open University. Do you guys know more??

    Thank you for your help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2012 #2


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    Hey steve0000 and welcome to the forums.

    One question I have is why you want a degree at all if you already have a PhD? Do you want to get the degree and the title of having the degree for reasons other than personal ones? Do you need to have an official degree from somewhere else? Are you looking perhaps for a career change?

    The reason I ask is because since you have a PhD, you are probably by now an extremely independent learner, even moreso than a Masters student, so I'm wondering whether there is any real advantage for yourself to even take a formal course at all.
  4. Jul 25, 2012 #3
    Thank you for your interest. There are of course several reasons why I , as an engineer working in a narrow field, would like to improve my knowledge in maths and physics.

    But to answer your question, the reason I'd also like to get a formal degrees (rather than studying some textbooks or watching the OpenCourseWare videos) are

    (1) to meet people and work "actively" in the field - if the graduate class is good, I could participate to small projects, perhaps leading to conference papers etc...

    (2) to stay motivated - studying outside my field will not become my priority unless I force it to be. I know, I'm lazy, I need this kind of motivations sometimes :)

    (3) to gain credibility in academia - an additional MS in maths/physics is a stronger statement than "I'm also interested in xyz" in a cover letter or CV

  5. Jul 25, 2012 #4


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    The only concern I have with an online course is the credibility issue: not just for the course itself, but how it is viewed by others including academics, employers, and anyone else.

    I definitely know what you're saying about the motivation: pretty much all of us need an environment that keeps us plodding along and that usually is one where someone else gives the direction as a kind of stressor and a pressure scenario to make us do things.

    The last thing that you would want to go through is to undertake a program only to have it not be taken seriously, even if the program itself was a decent program (it's possible this could happen), since a lot of the online education out there is plagued with the stigma of being a "degree mill" and this stigma is one of many things that tarnish credibility.

    You've mentioned Columbia University which has a reputation to uphold which is a good thing: you know that if someone has a good reputation, they will probably do whatever they can to keep it.

    The only other question I have is what kind of specialty or area are you considering? Different schools have different specialties depending on the staff or the department itself and each specialty will have an impact on the kinds of projects and networking opportunities that they have. Since you have an engineering degree, you will no doubt know the basic areas of mathematics, and probably have a really good idea of some of those sub-areas as well.

    I'm also wondering whether you have your own networking opportunities to find people (like say through a colleague of a colleague) that can hook you up with some active applied mathematicians? It's not a gaurantee, but given your in engineering, it's definitely more plausible than simply possible.
  6. Jul 25, 2012 #5
    I agree with you regarding the perceived credibility of online courses. This is why I consider Columbia as the only interesting option I found so far.

    Regarding the area of interests: in physics, I am interested in space sciences and astrophysics. In maths, almost anything in applied math is a good exercise for my brain and will help my current work too. I have a few subjects in mind but I'm open to new as well.

    Regarding the networking opportunities, I do have them in fact. That'd be my back-up plan if I cannot find an online master. The problem with that, I'd need to learn quite a lot by myself before I can actually propose a collaboration, which requires some time and much motivation (!).
  7. Jul 25, 2012 #6


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    It sounds like doing an online masters and then using your networking opportunities is one way of attacking the situation.

    The hardest part IMO is the credibility issue and the next thing is the networking issue. You have a lot of credibility capital behind you with your bachelors and PhD in engineering, so it's not like you are some unknown person from TimBukToo or anything and you have people who you know and/or can contact.

    With regards to astrophysics, you want to PM twofish-quant if you can't get a reply from him since he is very interested in the kinds of situations you are in: i.e. situations of online learning and they go.

    The other thing is that his PhD was in Astrophysics so he knows a lot about that area from personal experience and knows about the community, so he can give you specific advice that someone like myself would really have no clue about.
  8. Jul 25, 2012 #7
    Thanks for your input Chiro.
    I'll try to get in touch with twofish-quant!

  9. Jul 25, 2012 #8
    The only two that I know of are

    http://www.space.edu/ - online masters of space science with University of ND
    http://www.bt.pa.msu.edu/index_vubeam.htm - online beam physics at University of Michigan

    Also there are some interesting reason why there aren't any more online programs in physics. The basic problem is that it takes a lot of time and effort to put together a good online program, and there are basically no incentives to do it. With MBA's you have lots of people that are willing to pay the university $$$$ to start a new program. Engineering schools do distance education because they are funded by companies that want to improve employer skills.

    For physics programs, the funding comes from the government, and there is no pressure to increase funding, in part because the economic system can't deal with all of the physics graduates that the traditional system is putting out.
  10. Jul 25, 2012 #9
    I don't think that's true at all. For research positions, an extra Masters will not help you at all. For community college/adjunct positions, an extra Masters is overkill. If you want to teach physics or astronomy at the community college level, you already have the necessary credentials.

    Among researchers, degrees don't provide any credibility at all. What does provide credibility are publications. If you get your Ph.D., your dissertation will be a publication, and you can usually get some journal articles out of it. If you have a Masters degree and no publications, it's completely useless.
  11. Jul 25, 2012 #10
    first of all, thank for your quick reply and for the links. I didn't know them so I am now looking into them.

    This depends on the field. My field, for instance, is very narrow, and for this reason, finding an academic position in a good university is almost impossible. An extra masters is a proof that I have competence and interests beyond what I am doing (words are not enough I can tell you). Also, as in many other engineering field, being multidisciplinary helps my career. Just an example: my engineering research has a larger impact, if I understand the state of the art problems in space science. (For this reasons, physicists prefer to work with engineers with a strong background in physics)

    I agree on this. But in top universities, master courses are good enough that students can produce publication-worth projects- which is what I wanted to do.

    Thank you for your input!
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