August 2010

Professional Master’s Education


Increasing numbers of students are getting professional master's degrees in the biosciences, preparing them for jobs in the nation's tech-based workforce.


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“Exciting experiments in master’s education over the last decade, such as the Master of Biosciences program at the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences and the Professional Science Master’s initiative seeded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, have shown that graduate education in these fields can prepare professionals with both scientific knowledge and workplace skills (1).”

So concludes a 2008 National Academies review of non-thesis master’s degrees in science and mathematics. The Academies believe the degrees “prepare a new kind of scientist with multidisciplinary skills and experiences.”

Indeed, after 13 years of program expansion (from 15 programs in five universities launched in 1997 to nearly 200 in 97 universities in 2010), a sizeable cohort of PSM/MBS graduates now are moving steadily into new, and in some cases not so new, job categories that were never properly filled before. The positions carry with them significant value, authority and remuneration throughout the nation’s tech-based workforce. It is no wonder that professional master’s students are competitive. They don’t need further on-the-job training beyond their bachelor’s degree in science (or mathematics) and the two-years of “science-plus” coursework (culminating in a supervised business or government internship) required for the professional master’s.

Once on the job, they move comfortably into research management, regulatory affairs, clinical trials management and quality control in government agencies and the private sector; they also find jobs in forensics, intellectual property, tech transfer, food safety and consulting. Employers in financial services prize them as well for their familiarity with marketing, risk assessment and being able to evaluate new product development. They often are lured to tech start-ups because of the breadth of their education.


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