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Should I complete a Master's through coursework or thesis?

  • #1
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Hi all, I am currently an undergraduate in my third year working towards a simultaneous B.S/ M.S and will graduate next spring. I will be applying to Ph.D programs next winter and I am torn between earning my Master's through completing eight classes or through five classes and a Master's thesis. I believe a thesis would be better because I would be spending a great deal more time in the lab, but I am somewhat nervous because it is easy to insure I complete coursework, whereas a thesis is less well defined in time to completion. Given that I am definitely going on to further study and would be unwilling to work an additional semester or two on the thesis, I am hesitant to pursue that option. But I would like the strongest application...so what are your thoughts on the matter? Thanks for any advice!
 

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  • #2
Choppy
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What subject are you studying?

What country are you in?

These can make a difference.
 
  • #3
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What subject are you studying?

What country are you in?

These can make a difference.
Very sorry!
I am studying physics in the U.S. I am aware I do not need an M.S to apply to PhD programs, however since it fits nicely I am doing it!
 
  • #4
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Definitely the thesis option. See this discussion at academia stackexchange for more information: http://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/464/what-are-the-advantages-and-disadvantages-to-completing-a-masters-program-before

Specifically, this quote by a current professor of computer science (so your results may vary):

What we look for in PhD applicants is strong evidence of research potential. Most undergraduates don't have an opportunity to undertake a real research project, but MS students do have that opportunity, by definition. It's much harder for MS applicants without publishable results to be admitted than an undergraduate in the same situation, all else being equal.
 
  • #5
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whereas a thesis is less well defined in time to completion
Yes, but the same can be said about your PhD dissertation. If you want certainty, a research degree won't really provide it.
 
  • #6
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Yes, but the same can be said about your PhD dissertation. If you want certainty, a research degree won't really provide it.
Given that a PhD is my goal, I do want certainty that I will be able to apply when I would have had I not pursued the Masters.
 
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But why is a PhD your goal? If you value certainty, a PhD will not put you on a path to it.
 
  • #8
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But why is a PhD your goal? If you value certainty, a PhD will not put you on a path to it.
A PhD is my goal because I enjoy doing physics and hope to pursue it as a career. If I am unable to find a job, I would still enjoy having spent time doing research and earning a PhD. The only certainty I value is moving onto a PhD in the timeframe that I have planned and feel is reasonable.
 
  • #9
Choppy
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This is one of those questions where a lot can depend on the specifics. What are the additional courses? How relevant are they going to be to your PhD work and how intersting are they going to be to you? What would your thesis project be?

I don't think there's a hands-down answer either way. Personally I would lean towards the thesis option. There's only so much you can learn from class work, and the thesis would give you a good taste of what research can be like.

If you're worried about finishing on time, talk with current students who are working on projects similar to what you'd like to be doing. Talk with potential supervisors. Do most students finish on time? What are the reasons when some students don't? In you can define a clear project for yourself (with your supervisor's help), with measureable milestones, you should be okay, but there is always some serendipity involved in research. If you're not willing to live with the uncertainty, go with the coursework.
 

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