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
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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