Sunlit Water

November 5, 2007

The Terminatory Service We Provide

Filed under: Academia,Job Search — by teofilo @ 11:21 pm

Recent events have reconfigured my future plans in unexpected ways, and I’ve been meaning to write a post about that, but it’ll have to wait until I’ve done some more thinking and talking to people. In the meantime, this discussion of terminal MA programs is interesting. This is a subject of some importance to me because several of the possible paths I’m considering involve getting one of these degrees at some point (although others involve getting a professional degree, which is similar in some ways but involves different issues from an institutional and academic perspective). Given that, my sympathies are naturally with Rob rather than PTJ, but I’d be interested in hearing other thoughts on this issue, preferably from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.



  1. I bet it varies widely from discipline to discipline. In philosophy doing a terminal MA in a program that offers a PhD is usually pretty worthless (as per elm’s comment at LGM); doing a terminal MA in a program that’s dedicated to that can be pretty useful… at helping you get into PhD programs. If you don’t want to go to PhD school, the question remains what you’re planning to do with the MA anyway. (I had a student who was planning to apply his MA to setting up business ethics training programs, which seemed like a pretty cool application.)

    If the path you’re looking at involves a terminal MA, then I’d guess that you already know that there’s an application to the one you’d be doing.

    Comment by matt w — November 6, 2007 @ 6:16 am |Reply

  2. I bet it varies widely from discipline to discipline.

    Yeah, this is why I’d like to hear from people in a variety of disciplines. I get the sense that these degrees are more valuable in fields with extensive opportunities outside of academia, because they are unlikely to leave you with the “overqualified” problem you might have with a PhD. Ken Houghton said something similar on that LGM thread.

    Comment by teofilo — November 6, 2007 @ 9:34 am |Reply

  3. Terminal masters sets you up right nice in engineering. Not all pretentious and useless like a Ph.D., demanding all those high salaries, but more useful than an undergrad. Course, you can show the equivalence of a graduate degree by taking the Professional Engineering test. With your infrastructure jones, you might like a nice civil program…

    Comment by Megan — November 6, 2007 @ 12:30 pm |Reply

  4. Engineering’s a different world, where people my age are concerned about things like not letting their standard of living rise too much rather than things like whether they can pay their rent. I do get the impression that an MEng is a useful degree, judging by the number of people who seem to get them.

    No way I could do that, though. I’m so totally unprepared for it that I’d basically have to do a second bachelors just to get up to speed.

    Comment by teofilo — November 6, 2007 @ 2:51 pm |Reply

  5. I went into my engineering masters with calculus and undergrad physics, bio and chemistry. It took me one year to get up to speed on the undergrad engineering curriculum. Then one year for the master’s curriculum. If you really wanted it, it is doable, but I don’t have any sense that you really want it.

    Never being afraid for your rent is really nice, though.

    Comment by Megan — November 7, 2007 @ 2:19 pm |Reply

  6. undergrad physics, bio and chemistry

    I haven’t taken any of these. I did take calculus in high school, but that was a long time ago. It’s certainly doable, but yeah, not what I really want.

    Comment by teofilo — November 7, 2007 @ 2:30 pm |Reply

  7. Wait, I could get a master’s in engineering without an undergrad degree in engineering?

    Comment by Cala — November 9, 2007 @ 7:01 pm |Reply

  8. Teo, I have no idea what your field is (linguistics? did I make that up?), but I have a terminal Masters from this school. For working in DC, it has been great. It got me internships while I was in school, and jobs afterwards, and has a fantastic alumni network. (And I say this as some one who would rather cut my toe off than “network”.)

    But, politics is really light on the PhDs. I got the MA because I knew I’d need it eventually, and I preferred to do it right out of college, but I don’t need it for the job I have now. However, I learned some valuable skills that I still use today, and have access to a good job network. Worth $30,000? I’m not sure, but I think I’d do the same thing again if I had to make the choice again.

    Comment by Red or Green — November 10, 2007 @ 3:41 pm |Reply

  9. I majored in linguistics, but I have no intention of continuing with it.

    Comment by teofilo — November 10, 2007 @ 3:54 pm |Reply

  10. Cala, I did it, so has happened at least once. That makes me think you could do it too.

    Comment by Megan — November 12, 2007 @ 9:42 pm |Reply

  11. The debate continues, and seems to be focusing more and more on political science specifically and its relationship to policy. Still interesting, though.

    Comment by teofilo — November 14, 2007 @ 3:04 pm |Reply

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