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I am an undergraduate student in Canada doing a double degree concurrently, a B.Sc (Bachelors of Science) and a B.Eng (Bacehlors of Engineering) over 5 years. (8 years down to three at the price of my sanity? Sure haha!).

My Major in Science is Physics, and my Discipline in Engineering is Electrical/Computer.

When it comes to picking my masters, I have three options:

  • M.Sc (Science, thesis based)
  • M.A.Sc (Applied Science, thesis based)*
  • M.Eng ( Engineering, project based)

From knowing nearly nothing about these, I think the M.A.Sc sounds right for me, sort of a "middle ground".

I want to go on study quantum computers, specifically to apply the principles of quantum field theory to microprocessors and develop quantum computing hardware and software. (I work as a computer programmer alongside my studies, and I've been a professional polyglot programmer since I was 16, and a hobbyist since I was 11)

My question is, which masters would help me more on a path to a Ph.D, and eventually to a job in academia?

A fellow undergrad suggested I do a double-masters to compliment the double-degree, is this possible? Would it be useful to me at all?

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When it comes to picking my masters, I have three options:

M.Sc (Science, thesis based) M.A.Sc (Applied Science, thesis based)* M.Eng ( Engineering, project based)

The letters in your masters degree do not matter. In other words, you'll never see an M.Sc. or an M.Eng. specifically asked for in an application call ... you'll only ever see "Masters". As such, your degree could be called an M.Xk.Cd. and nobody would really care. It's the topic and quality of your masters matters most!

If you want to work on quantum computing, then you should look for a good masters programme in either Computer Science, Electrical Engineering or a relevant field of Mathematics. These are typically M.Sc. or M.Eng. courses (again, not that the letters matter!).

A research masters is usually preferable, in that you may even get a publication or two which will help with PhD applications ... or you may continue in the masters programme and graduate into a PhD programme if you are happy with your supervisor.

On a side note, I would encourage you to be flexible in your interests. You quote "quantum computing" as an interest but it can often be unfeasible to get a PhD you like in a really specific area. I think at this stage it's important for you to decide what discipline you want to pursue (Comp. Sci., Maths, Physics, etc.). Having a sub-field in mind is great, but don't plan your future too rigidly around that.

A fellow undergrad suggested I do a double-masters to compliment the double-degree, is this possible? Would it be useful to me at all?

Of course it would be useful. :)

But as to whether it would be worth your time, I would say absolutely not. See (1).

(1) Masters + 0.5 × PhD ≫ 2 × Masters
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    I'd disagree just a little, in that a project based MsC is going to be a little harder to take on the path to a PhD, unless that project is also producing research. – Matthew G. Dec 5 '13 at 16:34
  • @Matthew G., not sure I follow? I would have thought that thesis-based M.Sc.'s would generally be the most research-oriented? – badroit Dec 5 '13 at 16:47
  • Right-- I was just addressing the comment that the letters/degree wont matter. It might, if the content is sufficiently different. Probably could have left it though, as you sort of get to it in paragraphs II and III. – Matthew G. Dec 5 '13 at 19:40
  • Okay, gotcha. Just did a minor edit I hope makes it clearer. – badroit Dec 5 '13 at 20:34
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    That clears it up. – Matthew G. Dec 5 '13 at 20:38
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You have picked a nice area for having a wide background. Most theoretical quantum computing positions usually ask for experience in at least two of Physics, Computer Science, or Mathematics, so you are in good company. Don't pigeonhole yourself into one discipline if you are planning to be a theorist. More applied and experimental work usually requires a single background in the specific methodology used, and usually comes from Physics, Chemistry, or some type of Engineering. It is common for strong quantum programs to have professors of background in various fields, and in that case you will usually decided the letters after your M. based on the department/faculty of your preferred supervisor.

First, check if your undergraduate school offers a straight-to-Masters program, since that might be a viable option for you. I know that at McGill you can now get a Masters at the end of 5 years, instead of doing just a Bachelors, I am not sure how it is at Dalhousie. Ask your professors.

In Canada, your best bet for a Masters will be at the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo. They have one of the strongest and largest quantum computing/information programs in the world (and definitely the strongest and largest in Canada). If you browse their website, you will see that you can get any of M.Sc, M.Math, or M.Eng as your degree with departments ranging from: Applied Mathematics (2 profs), Chemistry (2 profs), Combinatorics & Optimization (4 profs), Computer Science (2 profs), Electrical & Computer Engineering (3 profs), Physics & Astronomy (7 profs + 3 assistant profs). I think all of the programs are thesis based, and students are expected to produce original research. I would base you department choice based on potential supervisors (you will have to list who you prefer as supervisor during your application) and what sort of non-quantum courses you like (since you will be expected to take some non-quantum related courses in your department).

Keep in mind, that in the USA, it is not customary to sit for a separate Masters before your PhD, so consider applying straight to PhD with your choice of supervisor determining the department. The IQI at CalTech is a good choice, I know that John Preskill has an interest in the intersection of quantum field theory and quantum computing; note that most other work in quantum computing doesn't use QFT and concentrates on the non-relativistic limit. Make sure to do a little bit of work in quantum computing during your undergrad before you make your Masters/PhD decision, to make sure you have an idea for the lay of the land. A lot of people don't have a good grasp of what research in quantum computing will look like when they first say they are interested.

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