Happy with just a masters

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

chewy
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Joined: Sat Dec 05, 2009 6:13 pm

Happy with just a masters

Postby chewy » Thu Oct 21, 2010 8:27 pm

Would anyone else out there be happy with just at least getting a masters. People are in grad school for different reasons but nonetheless its quite a busy lifestyle. Always something due (usually several things) plus the TAing and research duties and classes. A masters would take about 2 years to accomplish. I usually take things one week at a time to stay alive, but I can't see myself doing this level of work (# hours/week and hardly any fun relative to everyone else I know my age not in gradschool) for 5, 6 or 7 years. Factoring how old I would be even if I did accomplish all this in 5 or 6 years, I would not be young anymore. Are there decent jobs out there for people with a Masters level of education in physics with decent pay?

I keep hearing about education inflation (now a days everyone has a bachelors... now you need a masters to stay competitive in the job market) and that is one of the reasons I went to grad school to begin with. I'm sure I'm not alone in this thought process. But I also have to factor in, this is my youth. The time to enjoy myself as well (which is impossible right now). Does anyone else feel like a masters would be enough for themselves as well or am I part of a small minority in this thinking?

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Happy with just a masters

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Oct 21, 2010 9:31 pm

chewy wrote:Does anyone else feel like a masters would be enough for themselves as well or am I part of a small minority in this thinking?


Although I do believe a Master's degree will open you up to more jobs than a Bachelor's degree, it is obvious that in the field of Physics, a Doctorate is key.

However, I think you should do what you feel is best. It is indeed your life and even if everyone on here responds here disagreeing with you, don't worry. Obviously you've got to set your own path. Personally I would suggest that you continue onwards.

-Riley

vttd
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Re: Happy with just a masters

Postby vttd » Fri Oct 22, 2010 9:51 am

I don't know if this is a widely held belief, but some of my advisors have told me that there is a stigma about having a Master's in science, at least in the research realm. I guess the thought is that a PhD program will give you a Master if you don't pass your qualifying exams, but won't let you continue with your PhD. That's just what I've been told, I certainly don't think it would have a negative impact if you went into industry or anything though.

kroner
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Re: Happy with just a masters

Postby kroner » Fri Oct 22, 2010 12:14 pm

I think I work less than I would in the "real world," or at least less of the time I spend feels like "work." The work that is required of me is consistently more interesting and less full of tedious bullshit than I would expect to be doing elsewhere (besides applying for fellowships etc.). Obviously that depends on what you would be doing instead of grad school, but I don't know of any other career that offers the kind of flexibility that academia has. You can certainly make a lot more money though.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Happy with just a masters

Postby HappyQuark » Fri Oct 22, 2010 12:54 pm

From what I've been told, if you are looking to go into industry then a Master's degree is not only sufficient but frequently it is preferable. The reasoning seems to be that a Master's degree and a PhD differ only in that a person with a PhD has some extensive research in a topic typically of almost no use to what ever the company you are working for does. However, because you have that useless information and the extra letters on your name, they have to pay you more to do what amounts to the same job someone with a Masters could have done. Additionally, there seems to be this belief in industry that if you get too many PhD's in a room then they all think they are right, bicker for hours and don't get anything done while those with a Masters are more inclined to work together. I don't know if this is actually the case but just the notion seems to influence hiring procedures.

Alternatively, if you want to stay in academia then you need a PhD. Unless teaching at Topeka community college is a secret dream of yours.

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noojens
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Re: Happy with just a masters

Postby noojens » Sat Oct 23, 2010 1:25 pm

chewy wrote:Would anyone else out there be happy with just at least getting a masters. People are in grad school for different reasons but nonetheless its quite a busy lifestyle. Always something due (usually several things) plus the TAing and research duties and classes. A masters would take about 2 years to accomplish. I usually take things one week at a time to stay alive, but I can't see myself doing this level of work (# hours/week and hardly any fun relative to everyone else I know my age not in gradschool) for 5, 6 or 7 years. Factoring how old I would be even if I did accomplish all this in 5 or 6 years, I would not be young anymore. Are there decent jobs out there for people with a Masters level of education in physics with decent pay?

I keep hearing about education inflation (now a days everyone has a bachelors... now you need a masters to stay competitive in the job market) and that is one of the reasons I went to grad school to begin with. I'm sure I'm not alone in this thought process. But I also have to factor in, this is my youth. The time to enjoy myself as well (which is impossible right now). Does anyone else feel like a masters would be enough for themselves as well or am I part of a small minority in this thinking?

Chewy,

Grad students in the sciences are the most generally unhappy group of people I've ever known. Grad school is a pressure cooker, especially the first two years, and a lot of people don't deal well with that kind of consistent stress. So you're certainly not alone in your discontent. For what it's worth, though, things definitely settle down once you get classes and the qualifying exam out of the way and dig in for your thesis research. Then I'd say your work load is roughly on par with a demanding (but stimulating) "real job."

Regarding life with an MS vs. a PhD: I think whether you'd be happy with an MS is largely a function of why you entered your PhD program in the first place. Many folks take on a PhD program as a necessary step to a lifestyle or a job they know they want: academia, high-profile industry research, etc. Others go out of a sense of intellectual curiosity, a feeling that they haven't learned all they wanted to learn in undergrad. Many go out of what I'd call ignorance: grad school is the only well-defined post-graduate path for a physics major. In my experience, professors are usually terrible at presenting other career options to their undergrads, though options certainly exist. Some people go out of habit: school's all they've ever known. Some go out of ego or a need to prove themselves. And so on. Clarifying why you're in school will probably help you imagine what it would feel like to leave.

As for the practicalities? I'd say your odds of getting a job you're happy with are just as good with an MS as with a PhD - probably better in fields like business, engineering, consulting, or teaching at the high school or community college level. If you're dead set on being a professor, or doing cutting-edge physics research, then an MS probably won't cut it. Like vttd said, within academia the physics MS definitely has a "consolation prize" stigma, but if you move outside of the insular academic circles you'll leave that stigma behind, for sure.

Anyway, um, don't panic? :) And good luck with whatever you decide to do.




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