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173. Mailbag: I Have a Master’s Degree – Now I Want a PhD

There are many paths to a PhD. In the humanities, it’s common to earn a Master’s degree first (or so we’re told…)

In the biomedical sciences, students regularly skip the Master’s degree entirely, enrolling in a PhD program that includes coursework.

This week, we hear from two aspiring scientists who used the Master’s degree as a stepping stone, and now they’re looking to take the next leap.

Defining a Scientist

Nikki is a research scientist for a cosmetics company. She began as a lab tech, and over just three short years, was promoted to the position of Scientist.

She got support from work to begin a Master’s degree program part time, defraying the costs but also fraying her nerves.

“The benefits are that my company pays for the majority of my tuition, but I’m starting to get burnt out juggling both,” she wrote.

What she really wants is to deepen her scientific training in a PhD program, but she’s wrestling with that choice. After all, she’s been successful in her career so far, and expects to come back to industry after her training.

Is it worth it to earn a PhD if she’s got a Master’s degree and a good job?

And can she still consider herself a ‘scientist’ if she doesn’t hold the doctorate?

We answer these questions and more!

The Price of Prestige

Next up, “C”, is working on his backup plan to get into graduate school. After a couple of rejection letters, he enrolled in a Master’s degree program and got some additional experience in the lab.

That was enough to get him accepted to a PhD program, but there was one catch – it was at the same University where he did his undergrad. Is it okay to do your PhD at the same school you earned your Bachelor’s degree? Should C hold out for a ‘more prestigious’ school, or go with the program that has accepted him?

To make matters even more confounding, the lab C was going to join is now moving to another University that doesn’t have a PhD program, so he needs to figure out a backup plan to his backup plan.

We’ve got advice (some of it good!) and wish both Nikki and C the best of luck in the next stage of their journeys.

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