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Interview with McGill University: Thesis and non-thesis master’s degrees

very happy to be here to clarify what McGill considers to be non thesis masters and thesis masters I’m Josefina back at Lu I’ve been Dean of graduate of postdoctoral studies so all graduate students are under me if you want to look at it that way we have over 11,000 graduate students both at the Masters level and at the doctoral level think about the master’s programs that students can participate in in universities there are usually two different types and they’re called different things in different countries so I’ll just give you a little bit of vocabulary at McGill we call our masters non-thesis or theses that’s pretty self-evident in the UK these are called top masters which means just courses or research masters in the UK was mainly masters for many many years but they’ve started doing research masters in the u.s. they’re called course work based masters so what differentiates them is that in one case it’s there’s a lot of research and in the other case it’s mainly coursework so students take lots of courses and they’re developing expertise so they’re developing really a lot of breadth in their field the course has covered many many different aspects of their field and they’re usually credit based you know anywhere between 30 credits for 45 credits in the research master’s there are many fewer courses at McGill it can vary between three courses to 6 or 7 courses because the bulk of the time is spent doing research and producing the visas there are other aspects that are different between the two so if a student is doing research they’re working very closely with a supervisor and they’re producing simple questions so they’re going in depth about a question that really interests them and putting their own stamp on the discovery process in the coursework base masters the non thesis there is no thesis but the student can choose to do a research project nevertheless so it’s a smaller project they still work for the supervisor but it’s the amount of work that’s required is much less in terms of the research aspect of it basically they have to know what they want as a career but how they see themselves so if they want to do a lot of research they’re very inquisitive they want to explore their own ideas they want to do research and development that the expertise that they get in the research master’s in the thesis masters will provide them the skills necessary for going onto either research and development career or an academic career because the research master’s the thesis master’s prepares them for a doctoral degree or PhD whereas if they want to have just more knowledge about a specific field which is the course based masters they’re not thesis masters they can apply that knowledge directly but they’re not really undertaking any research questions in their job student really has to know what they want and what their skills are because the one thing that we haven’t discussed yet about the two masters is that doing a research master’s thesis master’s means that the student also likes to read a lot and write a lot because producing that thesis requires a lot of writing and a lot of good writing so if a student just cannot see themselves sitting in front of a computer writing pages and pages but as a thesis is about 60 to 70 pages whereas the project report is probably 20 pages very straightforward and very dry prose let’s say it’s not the same for the master’s thesis so the student has to know what they’re good at if they think that they really need to go into depth about a subject then it’s the research master’s if they want to know a lot about a subject the breadth of it then it’s a non thesis masters at McGill we have many different types of programs in many different departments some departments insist on having a project others don’t and some departments might have masters non-thesis with project and a master’s non-thesis without project so we have a lot of flexibility and the student has to just go through the curriculum for each department and choose what is most appropriate for that I would recommend with project because if you’re going to the University and you’re doing a master’s you want to get a sense of what doing research is so you’re still working with a supervisor and advisers are you’re getting that expert advice from a McGill professor and you’re trying out your ideas and I think that’s worth law it can do couple types of projects if we think about it a lot of times the supervisor might put the non thesis master student with for example a doctoral student so the non thesis master student might develop a new method in conjunction with the doctoral student to help them in their project they can test a new assay for the professor’s laboratory they can do field studies and in some of our non thesis masters we also have internships which means that the project is really carried out outside of the guild those are more difficult to have with industrial partners but we can have a few of those available every year a student who’s doing an internship for with an industrial partner for example that partner could be identified through the university or it might be an industrial company that the student already knows and is aware of so then the university would have to validate the work that’s going to be done in that company because at the end of the project there’s still a report that’s written so and it’s Magill the professor who’s going to be grading that report and assessing that report so if the student is going to an internship the framework is set at the beginning and what they’re going to accomplish and what their goals are so McGill will be involved in helping the student set up that internship whether it’s done directly through McGill or through the student if we look at what employers want in a student I think a lot of them are really focusing on students who are motivated and students who have the dry and who have the persistence so in both cases whether they’re doing a master’s non thesis or masters with thesis the persistence is there right someone has a goal spends the time and achieves the goal so that’s the basic asset that having a master’s gives you for the employer it means that the student can take on a project and accomplish it successfully with the depends on again where the employer’s goals are if they’re not very research oriented they just want someone who knows the field who knows the literature has acquired the knowledge through the courses I can apply that knowledge so I think there’s no question that both of them are useful I don’t think the non-thesis masters is valued any less than a thesis masters they just lead to different types of careers and that’s why the student has to really think about what they want to do in life whereas if it’s a company that doesn’t do much research and development but they want to implement what other people have produced in the field so they want someone who has the knowledge who can go and read the literature knows how to implement solutions developed by others so that would be more master’s non-thesis so they won’t have values and it really depends on what the industrial employer demands you know when you think about the decision that the students gonna make some of them despite everything that we say you know think reflect think some more trying to decide what you want to do in your life it’s very hard sometimes to plan 10 15 20 years ahead and most students want to leave all doors open so if they’re gonna do a master should they be doing at thesis masters in case they want to do a doctoral degree a PhD or should they be doing a non thesis masses and but does that closed all doors to them and I love the view that doing either of the masters will open doors for the doctoral program and we’ve had that instance at McGill where if you’ve got an emphasis masters that you will be considered favorably for a doctoral program because it means that you’ve done all the theoretical background to your degree you’ll almost have a head start in terms of the courses because we discussed whether the courses are the same in both and a lot of times the courses are the same but in the research masters you also learn more theoretical courses about methodology analysis writing skills so that’s what’s really promoted in the thesis masters and that’s what you’re probably the student who’s doing and our thesis is lacking but they can acquire that during the first year of the doctoral more dr. period the PhD so both of these masters can lead to PhD there’s no question in my mind this is really a major decision for your career I would recommend that a student think about it we have something that we’re developing at McGill called the individual development plan and what we’re trying to tell all students is to take time to take time to think to reflect on what is important for them what their values are and where they want to direct their efforts in their career so a student should really know what they want to do in the career what we’re trying to say is that it shouldn’t just be default you know I finished my bachelor as well I don’t know what I’m gonna do let me just sign up for a master’s that’s not the right way of approaching this because you should be choosing something that is of interest to you and that you’re going to be passionate about and that’s what’s gonna make you differentiate amongst your peers towards those employers because they’ll see that you’ve thought about what you wanted to do and that’s why you’ve taken a master’s degree

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