1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Programs To PhD or not to PhD

  1. Jan 11, 2010 #1
    Hello all. My very first post, hopefully I'll be around for a while :biggrin:

    I'm currently an undergraduate Physics major at a Community College. I'll be transferring Fall 2010 to a 4-year university (TBD, mostly by finances). For sure, my major is Physics, and though I'd like to go on and work in Physics, I'm realistic about my chances. With a B.S. my chances are grad school or seek employment that will almost surely be non-physics related. Needless to say, I'd like to carry on.

    So I'd like to go to grad school and continue to get a degree in Astrophysics. From what I have read, however, it seems that in Astrophysics, people go for either a Master's or a PhD, but not both. Is this correct? And if so, why? My assumption so far has been that you get a Master's, then progress on to a PhD. Additionally, I keep reading that the length for a Master's is somewhere between 8-10 years. Is that correct? What would be the length for a PhD?

    I hope I'm being sufficiently clear. If not, I'll clear up your questions as they arise.


  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2010 #2
    There are really two different paths typically taken in the US. If your interest is not really in academia, it is possible to study for a "terminal" master's degree. Otherwise, it is possible to go directly for a Ph.D., very often obtaining a master's degree after passing the qualifying exams.

    As for time, a master's degree usually takes a year or two beyond a bachelor's degree. A Ph.D. can take anywhere from 4-10 years beyond a bachelor's degree, with 6-7 years being fairly typical.

    Times and procedures differ slightly from university to university and country to country.
  4. Jan 11, 2010 #3
    Thanks for your reply.

    My interest is not necessarily academia, it is in research and/or practical applications. JPL and tracking NEOs is an example of what I would consider a worthwhile job. Would a "terminal" master's degree be sufficient for such a career (as things currently stand)?

    I should add that I would like to spend some time studying in Germany. My biggest barrier is probably the language, since no school around me offers any German courses and you generally need to pass their language-proficiency test for full-time study (I'm ussing the BBC website for some independent practice). I'm not sure if that would expand my options, but I would be open to work outside of the US (I speak English/Spanish and, soon, German :rolleyes:)

    I'm also unclear on the last sentence I quoted. You said "it is possible to go directly" for a PhD, and then you said "often obtaining a master's degree after passing the qualifying exams." Wouldn't the latter be the opposite of directly? Did you mean I can go about it directly or indirectly?
  5. Jan 11, 2010 #4
    Most physics programs assume that you will get a Ph.D. in the end, and they throw you a masters while you are in the process of getting a Ph.D. It's very different from business and engineering where most people in those fields have terminal masters.

    Masters are two years.

    It gets done when it gets done. It's hard to put a schedule on the Ph.D. because you are doing original research, and when you do something original, unexpected things happen. It's typical to spend three to four years after you get the masters, but it's rather unpredictable.
  6. Jan 11, 2010 #5
    You shouldn't go into a Ph.D. program expecting to go into research academia.

    Also one thing why people tend to do a Ph.D., is that once you get your masters, you are definitely qualified to do research, and so schools will keep you around at extremely low pay to do research for them until you get your dissertation done. Since most people that what to do physics want to do physics research, getting a Ph.D. isn't a huge negative.

    The working language of most research labs is English, so lack of German fluency shouldn't keep you from getting a job as a researcher. However, research jobs are *REALLY* tough to get, and you usually don't have much choice as to where you want to do research.
  7. Jan 11, 2010 #6
    I meant that obtaining a master's degree along the way is often possible, but it isn't required. For example, at the school that I attended as a CS major, if you wanted an MS, you had to pay a $50 fee at any time after you passed the Ph.D. qualifying exams. Many students didn't even bother.

    The intent is that you are applying and working for a Ph.D., but you can get some recognition of your work along the way, if you wish. Often students who do not manage to finish their Ph.D. obtain a master's degree in this manner.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook