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"Graduate Studies in Science Expand Beyond the Ph.D."
Chronicle of Higher Education
by S. Smallwood (April 4, 2001)

Earning a master's degree instead of a Ph.D. in the sciences has long been "like having an incomplete on your report card -- for life," says Sheila Tobias, a science-education consultant.

Yet despite the widely held bias in favor of the Ph.D., a recent study reports that doctoral training isn't what many students really want and doesn't prepare them for the jobs they eventually take. What's more, many educators suspect that the prospect of a lengthy graduate program deters some bright but more entrepreneurial-minded students from even entering.

Since 1997, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has been encouraging students and departments to reconsider -- and reconfigure -- the science master's degree.

Through grants to 17 universities, the foundation has promoted new master's degree programs to train scientifically educated people for the increasingly high-tech work force without turning every student into a researcher.

With Ph.D. programs in the sciences struggling to recruit American students, proponents of the new master's degree hope it will entice more of them to stay in the sciences. The new programs have no standardized name, though "professional master's degree" is starting to gain steam.

The programs vary, but here's the general concept: a two-year graduate program, often cross-disciplinary, with close ties to industry, lighter on the research than a Ph.D., heavier on the practical technology, and with a dash of business training. For instance, the Georgia Institute of Technology offers a master's in human-computer interaction that combines computer science, psychology, and communication studies. The University of Southern California offers computational linguistics, while Michigan State University has a program in industrial microbiology. Administrators from the 17 programs, as well as a few who are applying to the foundation for money, came to Tucson last month to discuss their successes and failures.

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