Why You Should Go to Graduate School

It is helpful to understand the purpose of graduate education in order to decide whether it makes sense for you to pursue an advanced degree. The next higher degree after the bachelor's degree is the masters degree. In engineering the Masters of Science is the normal terminal advanced degree. In other fields like chemistry and biology, the Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D., the highest degree awarded in the academic degree granting system, is viewed by industry and academe as the standard terminal degree. The Ph.D. is generally required if you wish to pursue a career in academics at a college or university. The Ph.D.is not necessarily required if you wish to pursue a career in the private sector. If you ultimate aspirations are to pursue a career in technical management, then a Ph.D. may be overkill. If you don't like research but wish to increase your career options, a M.S.degree might be a good alternative. It is possible to pursue a M.S.degree while working full-time. There are a number of universities that offer evening graduate courses to accommodate the work schedules of those from nearby industry who wish to take advanced coursework in their discipline. Today many private companies are encouraging their scientific staff to continue their education by providing tuition-reimbursement upon successful completion of graduate coursework (usually a course grade of "B" or better) at nearby universities. So, it is even possible to obtain financial support. Obviously, however, it will take a bit longer to complete an M.S. degree on a part-time basis as versus full-time.

The Ph.D. Degree

The degree requirements for the Ph.D. degree vary between academic disciplines, departments, and institutions, the Ph.D. is a research degree awarded for demonstration of the ability to synthesize and communicate new knowledge in a specific field of study. Unlike the bachelor's degree, the Ph.D. is not awarded in recognition of the completion of a specific program of coursework or study and/or completion of a period of residence in study at an academic institution though coursework and examinations are frequently required elements of the doctoral program. In fact, doctoral students typically spend the first year or two of their degree program taking courses, the purpose of which is to ensure that students have the requisite understanding of the theory and experiment that they will need in order to successfully perform independent research in their chosen field. Most institutions usually require candidates to demonstrate proficiency in these skills by completing a series of written and/or oral examinations that often include the identification of a significant research problem and an outline of a research proposal addressing that problem. Upon successful completion of these so-called "cumulative examinations" doctoral students spend three or more years exploring their research questions in the laboratory. When the degree candidate has synthesized a sizeable body of significant, new knowledge, they communicate this information in writing in the form of a dissertation and defend their work orally before a committee constituted from faculty from their department and/or university who share similar research interests and/or technical expertise.

The M.S. Degree

The masters degree is intermediate between a bachelor's and the Ph.D. Completion of a masters degree usually takes two years. Some masters programs are entirely course-work based and others require completion of a masters thesis in addition to completion of advanced coursework. No matter the program, the first year usually involves completion of a wide range of advanced coursework intended to develop breadth and depth of knowledge in your field. Students studying for a masters degree usually take the same courses that doctoral students take. If a thesis is required, masters students usually begin work on their research during the spring or summer of their first year and continue this through the second year of the program.

Checklist:
You should apply for graduate study if you have:

  • a strong undergraduate record in your major,
  • a strong interest in and aptitude for independent research,
  • a strong internal drive and motivation to succeed
  • a temperament to work on complex, challenging problems, and
  • high personal expectations for career opportunities and professional success