Take the 2-minute tour ×
Academia Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for academics and those enrolled in higher education. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am currently working as a software developer. I have a degree in computer science. However, my country, Turkey, is not a technology favoring country, and research in the fields I am interested in is very rare, and only available at a few select schools. From job, location and opportunity perspective (too many applicants for too few places), getting an advanced degree at these schools is next to impossible for me.

I want pursue Ph.D. badly but I need a MS degree first because I don't have any research experience. So I have decided to apply for US schools and do some research there applying for a Ph.D.

Is paying for a master's degree a good idea and will I be able to do quality research there? Do master's students convert their degrees to Ph.D., if so is it easy or difficult? What to expect from a MS for getting good research experience?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

In principle, yes, that's a viable plan. But there are a few stumbling blocks to be aware of.

First: There are two types of MS degrees in computer science in the US. Research master's degrees have a significant research component, usually ending with a formal thesis. Professional master's degrees require only taking classes; this is no expectation and little opportunity to get involved in research. A successful research MS is good preparation for a PhD program, and many CS PhDs started by getting a master's degree first. (I'm one of them.) But a professional MS is generally considered a terminal degree, even with a 4.0 GPA.

Second: PhD applicants with MS degrees are held to higher standards than PhD applicants with only undergraduate degrees, because they have had an extra year to build up a research portfolio. In my department, for example, strong applicants with master's degrees but no formal publications are usually rejected. See the previous point.

Third: Strong graduate programs in the US also get too many applicants for too few positions. Competition at the top departments is fierce. Even getting a research MS is no guarantee of being admitted to a PhD program.

To address the first three points, I strongly recommend asking the following question of any MS program you apply to:

What fraction of graduates from your program go on to get a PhD?

Fourth: If you don't have any research experience, how do you know that you want a PhD? Getting a PhD is not like getting an undergraduate degree; doing research is not like taking classes — it is much more open-ended, much more self-directed, and much much riskier. This is not a question to answer here, but definitely something to address in your application statement.

share|improve this answer
    
I don't have research experience but I independently carried out some small projects by myself for small problems. I love thinking on problems. –  bilal Dec 1 '12 at 20:54
    
Enjoying thinking about problems is a good start. What makes research different is that the problems are open-ended (i.e there's no solution to look up). –  Suresh Dec 1 '12 at 21:01
add comment

In principle, a masters degree is the first steps towards a scientific career. At least in my studies it was the first time I really did a major scientific project:

  • Defining a research question
  • Coming up with a plan how to answer the research question
  • Doing the actual research
  • Writing it down in a scientific report

In a lot of countries, excluding the UK, it is obligatory to get a Master degree before you are admitted to a PhD position. So, in answer to your first question, if you want to get into science, you need to do a MS. Depending on your financial situation, and how badly you want a career in science, paying for your MS might or might not be a good idea.

Your next question deals with difficulty. In general, if you really enjoyed your Masters research this is a good indicator you would like a PhD position. If you like doing research, a PhD is a nice job, but certainly not an easy job. However, if you enjoy it, it should generally be possible to finish your PhD.

In regard to if a masters is a good preparation for a PhD, it heavily depends on where you do your masters. But in general they train you in being a scientist.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.