Advanced degrees: Masters vs. a Ph.D degree.

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    Sep 03, 2009 4:23 PM GMT
    I was reading through the responses to the topic "Straight to Graduate School or Take a Break?" and was struck by the large number of persons whose degree objective in continuing on to graduate school seemed to be to obtain a Masters degree rather than a Ph.D. When I was in graduate school (admittedly many years ago), I can't remember anyone in my major (and continuing on to graduate school) whose objective was less than obtaining a Ph.D. degree.

    My recollection is also that the Masters degree was regarded (at least within my field of study) as a "consolation prize" for those who failed the Ph.D. qualifying exam (a written and an oral exam given at the completion of the first two years of graduate school).

    Are my recollections incorrect? Have the perceptions regarding a Masters degree vs a Ph.D. degree changed (assuming that my recollections are correct)? If so, to what degree? Does the relative standing/status of the two degrees vary among fields of study? Have the increased costs of continuing one's education played a significant role in making a Masters degree one's objective?

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    Sep 03, 2009 5:47 PM GMT
    An MA is a pretty useful thing for people who aren't going into a career that requires a PhD.

    Teachers in the state of New York, for example, are required to get a MA. Getting a PhD in education isn't really desirable unless they are looking to do something else.

    I am looking for a job at a cancer hospital. Many of the non-medical jobs require MAs. For people like me, a PhD is just an extra degree and more debt. It just doesn't factor in to my life goals at this point.
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    Sep 03, 2009 6:53 PM GMT
    It really depends on the field. For me, I could get a Ph.D., but it's not as valuable (as MunchingZombie said). For some fields, the Masters doesn't get you much without the Ph.D. so there it is the "consolation prize".
  • jrs1

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    Sep 03, 2009 6:57 PM GMT
    MunchingZombie saidAn MA is a pretty useful thing for people who aren't going into a career that requires a PhD.


    Bingo! A Ph.D is seen as a more research and teaching oriented degree, what with the dreaded dissertation. I, for example, am getting a Masters in order to utilize the time I am going to spend preparing for the LSAT wisely. I also intend to take even more time preparing for law school and the American workforce by enrolling in the Peace Corps. thereafter.

    A Masters is more en route to what you'd like to do as opposed to (just) a Ph.D.
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    Sep 03, 2009 7:12 PM GMT
    In some fields and at some institutions, PhD programs provide a more or less full ride, regardless of need, for all grad students. The MA programs are often pay-for-it-yourself. So, in some cases, an MA can be *more* expensive than a PhD.
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    Sep 03, 2009 7:14 PM GMT
    I'm in a master's prpgram, and want to go into a Ph.D. next fall. The program I want might take off 1/3 of their credits because of my master's degree. So it is useful.
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    Sep 03, 2009 7:20 PM GMT
    My interpretation of a Master's Degree has been that it's an incremental step up from a Bacehlors and an about two steps away from a PhD. I don't consider it a consolation prize.

    I'm planning on going for a Master's but not a PhD degree for now only because I'm not sure exactly which path to take after my masters. I'm generally interested in the symbioses of psychology and biology, hence Neuroscience is where I want my MA. Once I obtain that, I'll be closer to a PhD and hopefully I'll have more insight and knowledge to help figure out whether to dive into harder biological sciences and gene therapy, stay strictly with neurology, or go into psychology and cognitive science.
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    Sep 03, 2009 7:28 PM GMT
    I got my MS and it's been a door-opener and a differentiator from the billions of people who now have BA/BS degrees.

    A PhD is really something that would be great if you were going to seriously specialize or if you want to become a tenured professor, but other than that, they don't hold a ton of value in the business world in my experience.

    Piling up the degrees, though, is definitely worth a lot less in most career fields if you don't also have significant working experience. Getting too steeped in theory without any real experience in how things really work in the real world is not terribly useful when trying to get a job that pays enough to justify all of the educational costs.
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    Sep 03, 2009 8:01 PM GMT
    I got a masters in epidemiology in 2002. It has turned out to be very expensive, and it may only be this year that I see the "benefit" of such a degree. Most universities today hand out masters degrees like they used to hand out bachelors degrees 20 years ago. It truly has become a business; that's sad. The university presidents are as ethically bereft today as Senate and House members [as well as the current President].

    I once heard an interesting axiom: "At the bachelors degree level one learns information; at the masters degree level one uses information; at the Ph.D. level one creates information." That may have been so in the past when higher-ed was truly rigorous. It certainly is no longer the case today. The writing skills of nearly every student in higher-ed are abysmal. That's just one example of the pervasive dumbing-down in order to enhance enrollments.

    So though a graduate degree [masters OR Ph.D.] can open a few proverbial doors, only your heart can tell you what is right for you, and that may involve no degree at all.
  • MSUBioNerd

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    Sep 03, 2009 9:06 PM GMT
    It depends heavily on the field and what the person's intent is. In general, a PhD is needed to a) do independent research (as opposed to under the direct supervision of someone else), and/or b) teach at a university in many fields (though there are some fields, such as Computer Science, where a Master's is sufficient to teach at a liberal arts college). A Master's degree can be quite useful in many career paths; a Master is Social Work is enough to set up practice as a counselor, for example, and as has been mentioned an MA or MS is essential in some locations for teachers, and increases pay even when not required. It's only really if you plan the academic route or want to run an R&D lab within a major corporation that you need a PhD. Many universities will now enroll large numbers of students in terminal Master's programs, where the whole point of the program is to get the Masters, not to try for the PhD.
  • kietkat

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    Sep 03, 2009 10:05 PM GMT
    I am currently pursuing an MS in Chemistry (organic). The master's program seems to equally prepare students for employment as well as Ph.D study. I am still deciding if I want to pursue a Ph.D. I feel that those who choose to go into a doctorate program should be doing it because they are passionate about their field.
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    Sep 04, 2009 12:31 AM GMT
    I think it just depends what field you are in and the avenue you want to pursue. For instance, in psychology, having a Masters in perfectly fine if you're going out to be a counsellor or clinician; to be an academic, a psychology degree is pretty useless on its own and you advance further with a PhD over a Masters. (Side note: in Australia you can do a PhD without doing a Masters first).

    My sister was doing her MBA the same time I was doing my PhD and she mentioned that she was considering doing a PhD. I nearly fell off my chair laughing. There was no point for her to do a PhD; her MBA was perfectly fine for the work she was doing.
  • DCEric

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    Sep 04, 2009 12:42 AM GMT
    For me my Masters was in a technical field that I wanted more experience in, namely GIS. Its tool for the two fields I find myself caught between. If/When I do a PhD, it will be the final step in a career choice.
  • calibro

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    Sep 04, 2009 1:08 AM GMT
    I'm currently earning my masters, and I had the choice to attend another school and earn a Ph.D instead. I decided against the Ph.D simply because the work required was more than I was willing to conduct. At least in my field, you have you build your name with a lot of publishing credentials, and in a Ph.D you are so inundated with work there is little time to write.
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    Sep 04, 2009 1:10 AM GMT

    You're not but 20 years older than I and even for me I see a change in how the graduate tract proceeds and is assessed by not only employers but the public at large these days. My guess would be based on what I have seen there are more Ph.D. awards in the field of eduation and religion than any other domain of study.

    When I completed my master's degree in 1995 at Georgia Tech, of the 20 or so grad students in my school working on a Ph.D., only one was a U.S. national. Parents shout about wanting their children to obtain advanced degrees, but they rarely coach their children in that direction and furthermore, are fairly disrespectful of folks with advanced degrees in their own work environment. Just what I have observed within my own companies, I don't claim that to be fact.

    Unfortunately, degrees in America have also become a part of what I call "the checkbox system." You must have the B.S., M.S., M.B.A., or rarely Ph.D. so the boxes on the form can be filled for the next promotion or pay increase. I have observed this on a rampant scale in government, in particular with DoD. Not unlike the guy who gets the J.D. from a fly-by-night law school who, oh by the way, is never able to pass the bar exam.

    Education has also become a means of survival. Go to a school such as St. Leo that is run on military bases. You will be able to borrow enough money to pay for school, housing (even with a family mind you), and generally those things you would purchase were you on a payroll. They will even pay for fuel. Is it possible you will be required to pay back that loan? Likely not.

    St Leo is another institution where for example you may obatin a B.S. in Computer Science in two years. What is funny is you can obtain that degree with most of your classes being in religion. (No lie, some nut on my payroll hired one of these guys. He lasted two weeks.) Funny thing is these folks likely want know what C++ is much less code in the language. Asl them what the windowing system is on Unix and they won't know. (One of the window managers of X Windows by the way, perhaps Open Vue on HP-UX.)

    Then we wonder why we can't build cameras, cars, tv's or much of anything else in America.

    Ho hum.
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    Sep 04, 2009 2:04 AM GMT
    Have I told you about my nephew who just graduated with his PhD in History from Princeton? .... He was at the top of his class. ... Had gotten full scholarships all thru college and grad school. My brother didnt have to pay a dime for that kid's higher education...not tuition, books, living expenses, travel ...nothing....did you know that when you are top grad student at Princeton you get health insurance with your scholarship....$31000 plus health insurance plus an apartment....he immediately got an assistant professorship at Colgate University in New York state.....oh I told you all that already, eh....

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    Sep 04, 2009 2:17 AM GMT
    In my field, (Clinical) Psychology, it all depends on what you want to do. In general the mental health field is very much a tiered structure.... with Masters level counselors, MSWs and such on the lower level, then Psychologists, and then Psychiatrists on top -- all in terms of pay.

    I wanted to make a decent living, and where I live and plan to reside, six figures are definitely possible. Not only that, the Phd/PsyD option allows us to have a lot more flexibility in terms of where we want to practice, what kinds of therapy we do, if we do psychological testing, etc etc etc. Also, in most states MA level therapists cannot run their own practices, whereas Psychologists with PsyD/PhDs can.
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    Sep 04, 2009 2:44 AM GMT
    It depends on the field. IF you are in business, MA is great PhD is overkill and not worth it. Humanities on the other hand, if you don't have a PhD you are laughed at.
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    Sep 04, 2009 2:53 AM GMT
    ZbmwM5 saidIn my field, (Clinical) Psychology, it all depends on what you want to do. In general the mental health field is very much a tiered structure.... with Masters level counselors, MSWs and such on the lower level, then Psychologists, and then Psychiatrists on top -- all in terms of pay.

    I wanted to make a decent living, and where I live and plan to reside, six figures are definitely possible. Not only that, the Phd/PsyD option allows us to have a lot more flexibility in terms of where we want to practice, what kinds of therapy we do, if we do psychological testing, etc etc etc. Also, in most states MA level therapists cannot run their own practices, whereas Psychologists with PsyD/PhDs can.


    Never heard that before. I know lots of private-practice people with PhDs whose license is actually an LPC, awarded to masters-level practitioners.
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    Sep 04, 2009 3:44 AM GMT
    It all really depends on the field. PhD's are almost always intended for those wanting careers in academics including significant research. In many fields (especially at better quality programs) you can get complete funding to work on your PhD. Depending on the school a master's is either earned in progress to a PhD or is a prerequisite for the program. Master's degrees are much more variable. There are master's which are basically mini-PhD's or are awarded to those who don't complete the research required for one. Then there are master's degrees which are professional preparation in areas like business, social work/counseling, education (required for a teaching license in a few states). It really all depends on what it is that one wants to do with the degree.
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    Sep 04, 2009 4:12 AM GMT
    PDSurfer saidMy recollection is also that the Masters degree was regarded (at least within my field of study) as a "consolation prize" for those who failed the Ph.D. qualifying exam (a written and an oral exam given at the completion of the first two years of graduate school).

    Hardly the case anymore as master exam is 2 years into study and prelims are 4 (although the sciences are crazy). At any respectable program you shouldn't fail your prelim/quals or you have a fucking terrible adviser.

    I, like many other students in programs, received my MA last year but it was a test to gain entrance into PhD. i still have 1.5 years before prelims but I already have MA, I earned that bitch.
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    Sep 04, 2009 4:14 AM GMT
    ObsceneWish said
    ZbmwM5 saidIn my field, (Clinical) Psychology, it all depends on what you want to do. In general the mental health field is very much a tiered structure.... with Masters level counselors, MSWs and such on the lower level, then Psychologists, and then Psychiatrists on top -- all in terms of pay.

    I wanted to make a decent living, and where I live and plan to reside, six figures are definitely possible. Not only that, the Phd/PsyD option allows us to have a lot more flexibility in terms of where we want to practice, what kinds of therapy we do, if we do psychological testing, etc etc etc. Also, in most states MA level therapists cannot run their own practices, whereas Psychologists with PsyD/PhDs can.


    Never heard that before. I know lots of private-practice people with PhDs whose license is actually an LPC, awarded to masters-level practitioners.


    Perhaps that they have a PhD is the required credential, rather than the specific license. Not sure. It does vary from state to state.
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    Sep 04, 2009 5:09 AM GMT
    I think the attitude toward Master's vs Ph.D. varies with the institution. I got my PhD. at Cal, where almost every department is primarily research-oriented and views its mission as training the next generation of academics. In my dept the PhD program was bigger than the Master's. Among the contingent of PhD students who came directly from a Bachelor's, there was definitely the perception that the Master's was a consolation prize for those who failed the PhD qualifying exam. (But if you intend to head into academia upon graduation, then flunking the qual is indeed a devastating turn of events.) At more applied institutions, though, there's no shame in getting a Master's.

    Indeed, in my discipline it's the applied, data-oriented, computer-savvy people who are in demand in the outside world, and a Master's degree can get you hired above entry level. But PhDs are sought for their ability to advance the technology and to lead teams of other scientists. In technical fields that hire a lot of PhDs it's almost mandatory that the middle managers themselves have PhDs.
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    Sep 12, 2009 9:34 PM GMT
    I have a Dual MBA in Business Mgmt and Healthcare Mgmt. In my position as a Financial Analyst in a healthcare setting, my Master's have helped me move into positions that will give me a leg up on the competition. I thought about the PhD degree, but decided against it because it would not be an added bonus unless I decided to go into teaching. I have no desire to teach now, but maybe someday when I want to move into something different, I will go for it.

    In the end, it all depends on what profession you are pursuing. Either one will serve it's purpose.
  • cowboyathlete

    Posts: 1346

    Sep 12, 2009 9:44 PM GMT
    I moved to Houston to work on a Ph.D. in counseling psychology before I realized it was not a good personal or professional match (I already had an MA). Instead, I found that I have a real knack for health services research. Along the way, I have taught myself many statistical techniques, and have become very proficient in the field of geographic information systems. That plus a large student loan debt have convinced me I found my niche without looking into another Ph.D. area.