05 June 2009


A new type of graduate degree called a professional master's in science (presumably abbreviated PSM rather than PMS because the latter has another widely accepted meaning), combines project/business management classes with graduate level science classes, and aims to follow in the footsteps of the MBA invented in 1908 which now are now awarded at a rate of 90,000 graudates a year. There are now "134 PSM programs at 71 universities . . . and the 2,500 math/science graduates now enrolled." In many ways, it is similar to the Master's of Environmental Science program that my father led at Miami University for several decades (although that program is not counted among the 134), it has long features a mix of "hard" and "soft" skill development (problem solving was a core course) and focused on building employer internship relationships. Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and the University of Utah offer the only PSM programs in the Rocky Mountain West.

The PSM is intended for math and science graduates bent on careers at the intersection of science and management. In large public and private enterprises, PSMers serve as lab and project managers and/or work in close collaboration with specialists in finance, intellectual property or regulatory affairs. . . . “It’s best to think about the PSM not as a step down from the Ph.D. but as a step up from the bachelor’s,” says Bogdan Vernescu, the founding president of the National Professional 
Science Master’s Association. . . . The PSM is filling an educational void as well as an employment void. As late as 1995, fewer than 3 percent of all U.S. M.S. degrees were in the sciences. The M.S. in those fields, earlier a respected graduate-level degree, came to be thought of as a failed Ph.D. Meanwhile the master’s degree in engineering continued to be highly respected, in part because engineering was in closer touch with business and industry.

The PSM founders argue that if physics is typical (the American Physical Society estimates that only one in six physics bachelors eventually earns a Ph.D. in physics), then a potential market exists for science and math–trained professionals. . . . From 1997 to 2002 some 20 science master’s programs were established (the term PSM came later), providing an initial proof of concept. University faculty and deans engaged local employers in identifying future employment opportunities for master’s level science and mathematics graduates. Students (especially women) were attracted by the curriculum and the relatively short two years it would take to become professionally trained. And faculty found the students academically strong.

The heart of the PSM is the combination of graduate-level science and/or mathematics, often in a newly emerging discipline (such as bioinformatics) or at the intersection of two or more traditional ones. Absent a thesis, students enroll in short courses in business fundamentals, tech transfer, project management, intellectual property law, regulatory affairs, entrepreneurship, leadership and/or ethics — which, with training in communication (written and oral) and team building, constitute up to 30 percent of the students’ studies.

Rounding out their program is a required internship (in all but a few of the specialties) for enrollees not currently employed in a high-tech enterprise.

Job placements are reportedly high.

I was a mathematics major as an undergraduate, who has picked up a lot of the non-science content of these degrees with my law degree and private practice experience, and have encountered several medium sized company CEOs and senior executives with math/science backgrounds in my practice, although none had a PSM, something invented largely after these individuals completed their educations. The combination, in short, is not unworkable. But, like any new idea, it still has to prove itself.

I had known that the PhD had surpassed the MS in the science, but I hadn't realized just how extreme the decline of the MS in science had become (although arguably the real development is the growth of the non-science master's degree).

My biggest concern is that these programs but one more credentialing barrier in the way of qualified B.S. and B.A. candidates for jobs.

1 comment:

Dave Barnes said...


Sometimes you are so retarded.

The major point of the Masters degree is that when they throw the resumes down the stairwell, yours (with the Mx) will be heavier and land at the bottom.

The minor point is that an Mx degree is way less effort than a PhD.

MS Engineering