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Is a Masters Worth It [long post, sorry]?


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So I thank you all for reading this and Happy Easter. Any advice you're giving would be helpful.

 

I'm will be a junior this upcoming semester. I'm currently a neuroscience major. I always thought I wanted to get a PhD in neuroscience, work in a wet lab and do psychiatric research. I dabbled since high school in humanitarian and law work but always just considered it a passion. As my friends are graduating (who were my 'biology clique') I'm realizing my desire really is in something international or humanitarian. Why should I do a job or a degree just because I've kept with it for 3+ years when I have the chance to do something that my talents are useful? I'm charismatic, a great writer, personable, a quick thinker and I have a great memory. Plus, I love to travel, the world is so interesting to me and the dynamics/interconnectedness of the world is really interesting to me. After deep (and panicked) thoughts, I would be happier doing something international or dealing with global affairs than working privately in a lab.

 

As mentioned before I'm a neuroscience major, but I have a good amount of experience with things in the international field. I was just awarded a student reporting position internship for the summer at USA Today's college website, I have 4 years of experience with the Red Cross, and I'm in the running for an internship position with the International Justice Mission in Washington DC for the summer. I also have a few government classes under my belt and will take a few more for a total of 12-16 credits in said field.

 

Academically I'll have around a 3.3-3.4 when I graduate with my neuroscience major but I'm realistic. There will be ALOT of qualified (and rightfully so) students for PhD positions in this competitive field. That being said I was considering getting masters first to help boost my application.

 

The major question is 'How useful is a masters?' I'm not very well versed in this field of study, but in the bio like field if you don’t have a good enough gpa for a PhD a lot of students go for a masters first and then go forward to PhD. If I do well and utilize the advantages of a masters, does success in a masters in global affairs (let’s use NYUs program for example) help with getting into a PhD program or is it a waste of time and money? Are there professional positions with people with just masters or is a PhD required afterwards? If a PhD is a worthless degree to get in global affairs (I would prefer to not teach but have an active position in a think tank, or some type of working group for a coalition, or organization) or do most people have a PhD afterwards? Any advice about this master’s track is useful. I know trying to reinvent myself this late is kinda...odd, but I feel pretty strong about this. I dont want to lose my neuroscience major, hence the masters idea. Is this a dumb idea? any ideas?

 

Thanks so much

 

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I'll be honest: I only skimmed your post.  But here are my thoughts.

 

You're definitely not "late" in pursuing a new interest.  I did nothing related to anything international throughout my 4 years of undergrad and nevertheless have spent the past 3 years working overseas.

 

Having an advanced degree is a tremendous asset in working in the humanitarian setting -- whether it's a PhD or a MA.  Both are valued.  If you think it's something you're interested in, I would go work somewhere abroad for a couple years immediately after graduating.  You will learn if it's something you're truly interested in pursuing in the long term.  It would also give you the opportunity to see first hand all of the horrible, poorly planned and implemented projects that fall under the umbrella of "humanitarianism."

 

It sounds like you are still fairly unfocused, which is fine and totally understandable.  I think a few years doing real work abroad will clarify things for you.

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I think it depends on the field of study you are talking about, MA in IR this typically a professional degree, meant to prepare you for going out in the working world not an academic career. It focuses on practical applications over looking at issues from purely academic standpoint. Granted the ratio between academics and applied depends on the school, so you will always get a mixture of both.

 

What are you looking at getting a masters in and what do you want to get a Ph.d in? I know for anthropology (my undergrad major), a masters in anything, including anthropology is pretty much worthless and at times discouraged (Archaeology is a different, with my BA I could go into Archaeology and a masters in it would make me more marketable). Most Ph.d programs in anthropology award a masters degree in the course of your Ph.d studies. I'm not sure how typical or atypical this is, so you would have to look at what you want to master. I think in general though, a professional degree in global affairs isn't going to help very much in increasing your marketability towards a Neuroscience Ph.d program. It will help you immensely in working in the field of global affairs. 

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Actually, I would disagree.  From what I've seen with the major aid agencies, it's better to have a more specialized/applied degree.  E.g. getting an MPH will make you more marketable than having a MA in IR.

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Sorry for typos in this message i am on my phone.

To put it brcause it might have gotten lost...im currently a neuro major but i want to go into global affairs. I have a lot of experience(red cross internship, writing for usa today, human rigts coalliion internship and international justice mission internship) that fit the global affairs route and some classes but not a major. I want to know if a masters in global affairs if i do well in it will that help with applying to a phd program. also will i need a phd to work for global justice programs and organizaions? Or will a masters and internships be enough? Basically im trying to swith gears to ia or global justice field and wondering how to do that. I know my desired end goal is abstract so anyone who could help wth that would be nice. In a nutshell id like to work for a company that advocates for hunan rights or deals with infractions with human rights around the world.

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I had no relevant classes and I still got into competitive IR programs.

 

Yes, a MA will help you get a PhD.  But you are getting ahead of yourself.  If you want to do work with "global justice", I would recommend spending a couple of years working directly with these issues, whether abroad or domestically.

 

Your questions are almost impossibly vague.  You can get a better sense of what you need to do the things you want to do by looking at the biographies of the staff at organizations you might want to work for.  (HRW?  AI?  UNHCR?)  Ask for informational interviews with people at these places.

 

Generally, though, a PhD is not required to do applied work.  PhDs are usually for people who want to do high level research.  MAs are usually for people who want to be doing very applied work.

 

I'll add as a last note: don't be too worried about molding yourself into a preconceived notion.  Follow your interests.  They will change over time.  Also consider that Howard Zinn, Edward Said, and Noam Chomsky -- three of the most influential human rights advocates -- made enormous contributions without taking traditional routes.

 

You might also consider a law degree.  But if you do that and go into human rights, you'll probably be in debt for a VERY long time.

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P.S. Whatever you end up doing, you should know that Revolution expects to make a lot of money (at least $90,000 given his years of experience in finance) and that he has only the finest educational pedigree.

 

This information seems to end up in every thread, so I figured I would get a head start.

Edited by Iskawaran
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It all depends on what you want to do. In Policy Land, PhDs are typically doing research and diving deep into data. With some exceptions, they don't really interact with the world of policy application and implementation. In other words, the PhDs are generating the theories and data analysis that then gets turned into workable policy by folks who tend to have MPPs or MPAffs. The "masters-level" folks, as stated above, are typically working in a professional context. 

 

This is not to say that the PhDs are somehow better than the Masters-level folks because they are doing "pure research", or that the Masters-level folks are better than the PhDs because they are actually putting policy into practice. The type of person who is interested in a PhD in global affairs/public policy is not usually suited to the work that a MPP/MPAff candidate is interested in pursuing. They tend to attract very different mindsets. 

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The type of person who is interested in a PhD in global affairs/public policy is not usually suited to the work that a MPP/MPAff candidate is interested in pursuing. They tend to attract very different mindsets. 

 

I would like to hear more about why you think like this? I kind of know what you're getting at, but based on my experience and what I've heard, I wouldn't say the difference between the two "worlds" is as stark and the people as different as you seem to think. So I'm curious - perhaps you're right and I'm wrong?

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I would like to hear more about why you think like this? I kind of know what you're getting at, but based on my experience and what I've heard, I wouldn't say the difference between the two "worlds" is as stark and the people as different as you seem to think. So I'm curious - perhaps you're right and I'm wrong?

 

I think it's more of a difference in terms of how people are interested in creating change. Most PhDs - again, not all - are going to be in an academic setting, busily producing dense research and working on projects with multiple year timelines. Most MPPs are going to be working on projects with much shorter horizons, and are going to be working on more direct policy implementation (or evaluation, etc). Someone who likes to plunge in and mess about with the guts of a specific program - and who wants to see real-time change - is usually going to go stir crazy while working on long-term research projects that end in recommendations rather than more immediate impact. Conversely, someone who is interested in more theoretical underpinnings and proving outcomes beyond a shadow of a doubt may be a little agitated by the condensed timelines and programmatic compromises that come about when policy is put into practice. A classic example of the latter is someone like James Heckman. You have to admire the man's models, but I think he would be incredibly unhappy if he was working on the real world application of education policy and workforce development.

 

MPPs need the PhDs to develop the evidence base and theory needed for smart policy; PhDs need MPPs to see the work get implemented in the field, and to translate some of the chewier research into more widely digestible explanations. I don't see the two groups as being starkly different in terms of personality - it's more about how they like to work and where their talents are best suited. 

 

There's always exceptions to the rule. For example, there are PhDs floating around government agencies, think tanks, etc. But by and large most PhDs go into academia or other research-focused settings. 

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There's always exceptions to the rule. For example, there are PhDs floating around government agencies, think tanks, etc. But by and large most PhDs go into academia or other research-focused settings. 

 

I agree with pretty much everything you said. My experience and knowledge is more based on the PhDs that I know in multilateral/govt agencies and think tanks so I was looking at the issue from that angle (my own bias). But you're right that there is a vast difference between academia-focused PhDs and the people (MIAs/MPPs) doing the "concrete implementation" and "short-term analysis" if you will.

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You guys are giving a lot of good advice which is AWESOME. So thank you.  I'm thinking of just sticking and getting a Masters in International Affairs and a masters in Terrorism, which a few schools on the east coast offer (I know Penn State does, Georgetown and George Mason does. I THINK Brown does too? Not sure about west coast) and then combining them somehow to deal with terrorism or, human rights issues or something. I know that's still very vague but one step at a time; right?

 

Now I just need to find some space possibly during the summer to take some more poli classes and do internships/volunteer positions.

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