# Are two undergraduate degrees better than one master degree?

I have finish my BSc in physics. I want to work in a interdiscipline like biophysics or econophysics. Because these are mainly physics, one can study higher with spending little effort to understand biology or economy concept. However, I think that having a stable knowledge in other discipline would also help you better in researching. Since I have studied physics, mathematics isn't a problem, therefore I can skip it to shorten the study time, which means the amount of time I spend will approximate to the master degree duration (I hope so). Another point is I can be more flexible than one who only know his/her specialization.

The biggest disadvantage is I don't have a master degree, of course.

• One minor remark: As an economist, I would not consider econophysics as interdisciplinary. It does not use anything from economics, no economist would consider it as part of their field and only physicists are working in it. And, to be honest, a BA in economics does not help you to do research in any field. However, you could do a Master's in economics. That is (in Europe) quite common, takes as long as a Master's degree and has all of the positive effects you mentioned (and more). – The Almighty Bob Aug 8 '14 at 16:18
• @TheAlmightyBob: As an economist, what's your opinion in econophysics? I read its wiki and see that economists seem not to care about this. Am I right? – Ooker Aug 8 '14 at 16:50
• I think it is pretty useless. Don't get me wrong, I think most people with a physics background are very well qualified to do economics research. However, ignoring everything that has been done so far and not trying to present it to economists is not helpful for anyone. I would suggest looking at quantitative finance. Most researchers do not have any economics background (mostly math and physics) and they are using techniques similar to /taken from physics. However, as I said before, as someone with a Physics BSc you are probably well qualified to do a Master's in Economics. – The Almighty Bob Aug 8 '14 at 17:01
• Your guidance seems to be very interesting. Do you have any more suggestions? Thank you. Also, while econophysics isn't considered to be in mainstream, I think it's larger day by day, right? There are books introduce to it, forum or blog for discussion and top university like Yale or Houston or MIT have groups to research. – Ooker Aug 8 '14 at 17:15
• Traditionally, a Master's degree makes you a Master. Two Bachelor's degrees makes you a... Bachelor. Actually, you can't be "admitted to the degree of Bachelor" a second time, since you're already a member of it. – Max Aug 8 '14 at 17:36

Disclaimer: the following is my practical experience on research. I have no idea about the opinions of admissions committees and the like, but it probably depends greatly on the country and the relative quality of master's and undergrad education.

I am a theoretical physicist by formation (5 years degree). Then I did my master's thesis (I had taken enough courses) in Bioinformatics, and I am doing a PhD in Biophysics.

When I start a new project (or tackle the next sub-project), there are a bunch of things about Biology and Chemistry that I don't know, but most of them are actually quite easy. I am sometimes lacking "the bigger picture", being able to my questions into a broader meaning, but that is not so important. For example, my master's project was to improve the number of identified peptides in an experiment using computational techniques, and that is a very clear goal. What to do with this improved results? Obviously, we can improve the things we already do. But, are there biological questions it can help answer? I am not sure, but there are experts on that.

For the middle picture range, I rely on my advisors. They are also physicists, but they have learned along the way pretty much what they need. And after just a few months, I was surprised of how much I was able to help the new members of the lab.

Actually, I believe taking another undergrad degree would not help so much. Of course, I would be faster at the beginning, because I would know what things like "the $C_\alpha$ residuals" mean, but the actual meat of the project, where we spend months, is probably not covered (or not covered in enough detail) in most undergrad degrees. And the main reason is that these details are known only to those who have actually worked hands on with it.

Let me give you an example: in Physics we talk about spectra all the time, and all the information you can extract from it, with perhaps, the only limitation is the noise of your instrument. The truth is, unless you have a VERY expensive camera, you are going to find very funny stuff, like two spectra taken right after the other, with exactly the same experimental set up, will not have, on camera, the same intensity; and even the profile of the line. To compensate for this you need to get clever, and it very much depends on the details, so it is very difficult to teach unless your lecturer is an expert in spectra analysis and can tell you how they do it. And still, most people can just rely on the spectra pre-processed by the experts, so they don't need to know this. Unless, of course, you want to work with raw spectra yourself (been there).

Lastly, a master's or a PhD has some courses. They are usually quite specialised, targeted for your level and background, and can bring you up to speed in the things you need to know about your field quite nicely.

And to add some peace of mind, my former lab hired a postdoc coming from computer vision. His biological knowledge had quite big holes, but nevertheless, in a couple of weeks he was already doing amazing stuff with very good ideas.

Bottomline, go for the advanced studies. You can always take Biology or Economy on the side (for example Open University or unofficially at Coursera).

• How could I forget Coursera? This maybe the solution. Thank you so much. My dissertation is in biophysics, and I agree that learning what is a C_alpha residue is not so hard. However, I have a feeling that biophysics is still physics, and we need more communication between biologists and physicists. If possible, I would like to be able to understand both field. Do you have any advices? Thanks again. – Ooker Aug 8 '14 at 16:56
• @Ooker you are going to take biology courses. The difference is that they will be specialised into your interest, and stripped of things you already know. For example, you don't need to be explained what a spectrum is; and you probably don't need to know the anatomy of a rat. Also, when explaining genetics, for example, they can use Markov Chains and get in more depth. – Davidmh Aug 8 '14 at 17:14
• To prepare some samples, I know you have to add a buffer to stabilise. A biologist would know which one, and how much, but for my job that is largely irrelevant. They know the pros and cons of each. But I agree that we should have a strong interaction; we can discuss together the different options, maybe I can come out with an idea to compensate for a certain con. – Davidmh Aug 8 '14 at 17:16
• Do you have any suggestion if I want to be the a communicator between physicists and biologists? – Ooker Aug 8 '14 at 17:28
• @Ooker collaborate. Get together and discuss things. Organise a journal club, participate in joint research... – Davidmh Aug 8 '14 at 17:59

As someone who was in a situation similar to yours I always would recomment the advanced degree. The key difference (at least in most U.S scholls) is that with a B.S/ B.A you have a lot of "fluff" classes to make you more well rounded. Going for a M.A/M.S cuts away a lot of that and focuses much more on just the relivent classes. This makes getting the advanced degree much more time efficent.

Another point I'd like to make is that rarely does two degrees do anything. When getting a job for example, you get more money with an advanced degree. There isn't anything (to my knowledge) that gives you more for two degrees. So you've just wasted years of your life for not much reward (knowledge? Maybe, but certainly not any more than with a Master's in a specific field).

One final anecdote: I had a teacher who had two Master's in something or other in a field where PhD's reign supreme. Because of this, he wasn't allowed to be a full fledges professor but only an instructor (much less stable and much less pay). I say this because, yes he had two "advanced" degress, but two doesn't equal the higher degree. In this case, I believe you would just be limiting your options with the second B.S. In any case, good luck :)

I strongly disagree with a 2nd BSc degree. First, even if you manage to somehow avoid officially some courses because of your first degree, all BSc degrees have a minimum duration which is typically longer than a MS. So, it is not going to be faster or easier. Second, even if you get the 2nd degree you will know less than the ones who have a MSc in the second area. Also, a MS is a nice way to connect with potential advisors if you want to continue for a PHD and work on a specialized thesis similar to your interests.

To make a long story short: If you can get to MSc program of your area of interest with your (partially irrelevant) BSc degree, go for it. Then cover the knowledge you are missing on your free time. It is not going to be easy, but if you pull it off, it will work better for you in the long term. Disclaimer: That is what I did and it worked for me. Hope it works for you too.

• Actually my second degree is for the worst case: I have to quit researching to make money. I need not to make money now, just in case life is getting harder. But you are right, if I really need to make money, a MSc might still be better. – Ooker Aug 8 '14 at 17:01

A masters degree is far superior. The study done at a graduate level far surpasses the study at an undergraduate level. Employers look at a masters degree with much more acclaim than they would 2 bachelor's degrees.

I am a D.Phil. (PhD) student at a Doctoral Training Centres at Oxford and my experience is that a Master's degree in interdisciplinary bio-science would do you much better than a second BSc. I was one of 11 "mathematical sciences" students in my year with a couple of mathematicians and a bunch of physicists. None of us needed to relearn the skills from a BSc because we all had them, what we needed was direction on what is important to learn for working between disciplines. If I were you I wouldn't go for the second Bsc, I would go for a Master's or alternatively as I was recommended skip the Master's and go directly into a PhD program.

• Please be careful not to phrase references to websites with which you're affiliated as if they're advertisements. – aeismail Aug 10 '14 at 19:42
• I removed the link – Thaddeus Aid Aug 10 '14 at 23:32
• His link is useful to me. – Ooker Aug 12 '14 at 6:02
• Just search DTC Oxford and you will find what you are looking for – Thaddeus Aid Aug 12 '14 at 18:03
• What if there is no master's degree in interdisciplinary bio-science available? Like the only choices available are BS Bio, MS Bio, MS Phys? – BCLC Sep 1 '14 at 9:06

It depends on what you want to do next, and where you want to do it. In Switzerland, you are supposed to have a Masters degree to start doctoral studies, however with you bachelors degrees you can probably convince them to accept you (depending on the fields). In Australia, most people do not have Masters degrees before starting a PhD.

+1 for flexibility and broader knowledge.

Master's for sure. I would rather be a master of something than a jack of many trades. Specialize. Comparative advantage and all that. Or perhaps you would rather be a jack? Then maybe 2 bachelor's is for you, but interdisciplinary doesn't imply jack/2 bachelor's I guess.

Re: Econophysics, you can try out quantitative finance/mathematical finance. I am currently a grad student of QF, and we are learning stuff like Brownian motion and Feynman-Kac theorem. Basic for you Physics people, right?

There's the small difference of applying the stuff to finance (allocation of scarce resources over time) rather than economics (allocation of scarce resources), but hopefully that's not too far from your intention.

If you want to get into QF/MF, you could take a master's in it or just get a master's in Physics and learn the Finance on your own. Finance is relatively easy to learn. Things to check out:

Quant Stackexchange (save it from beta please)

Quantstart.com

Emanuel Derman

For Mathematical Finance (the Finance is introductory while the Math is not):

Hull's Options, Futures and Other Derivatives

Bjork's Arbitrage Theory in Continuous Time

Please be patient with the cute math you may see.

For Economics (Basic-Math Basic-Economics book):

N Gregory Mankiw's Principles of Economics

• @Ooker Well yeah, but they are not too far apart, I think. Afaik, econophysics is just a fancy term for mathematical economics since if you are going to apply physics to economics, it will be through math. But economics is broad. Finance is a part/an application of economics I guess. If you are going to economics, you will have to pick a field to which you are going to apply math/physics. While finance is broad too, mathematical finance, I believe, is not. Try checking out the Wiki page for QF/MF. I also added some books in the OP if you happen to be interested. – BCLC Sep 1 '14 at 10:38
• If you are not a finance or economic person, how come you know much about them? Anyway, thanks for your effort to help me decide :D – Ooker Sep 1 '14 at 10:49
• Thanks for asking me. I decide that I'll study higher about applying physics in evolution. What makes you come back? – Ooker Jan 14 '15 at 8:14
• I'm not really sure what you mean, but I will take that as a compliment. Thank you. – Ooker Jan 14 '15 at 9:26
• Earth doesn't have that many STEM people so to be one is worthy of a salute from the human race I guess? – BCLC Jan 14 '15 at 9:31

"Or perhaps you would rather be a jack?"

Do people need to be reminded that medical doctors in Canada, and elsewhere, earn 2 bachelor's degrees? The first one is either a BA or B.SC., and the second undergraduate degree is an "MD". Same for teachers, BA or B.Sc. plus a B.Ed. Ditto for Law - BA or B.Sc. plus an LLB (Bachelor of Laws), now called a 'Juris Doctor', but it is still an undergraduate degree. Even though the 2nd bachelor's degrees in these professions are undergraduate, they are 'professional' undergraduate degrees.

So for many professions, 2 undergraduate degrees are both necessary and sufficient. So much for the "Or perhaps you would rather be a jack?"

• It is possible to still be a teacher in many places with a single degree (BEd), same goes for law etc – user41783 Nov 8 '15 at 2:42

It would depend on how useful your first bachelor's degree is.

If you majored in most liberal arts or humanities areas, then a second bachelor's in business, engineering or information tech could open up some doors for you that your first degree did not.

The first question to ask yourself is "Get a Master's in WHAT?" That's an almost impossible question to answer if your goal is to get a better job.