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

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note: not sure if this is in the right place...



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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Based on what your interest seem to be, you may want to rethink the phd route. Generally, the phd trains for academic research and not the type of applied work you want to do. Of course public policy PhDs are generally more applied. Try to consider what you actually want to do - getting a masters and a couple of internships may be a better route to your ideal career.

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Ah, you're so cute and earnest and full of zest for life.


First things first, PhDs are generally for academic tracks. The career you're aiming for will probably require a Master's, especially since you don't have a polisci/IR background. There are professional PhDs and programs in Public Policy that mix academics and professional training, particularly in DC and the UK, but you probably don't want to start there.


Second, the path to the top of Think Tank Mountain has been abandoned in favor of barista jobs by better (wo)men than you or I. Truly high supply and low demand. Getting recruited out of school is hard. Often times you get a string of unpaid internships and making the transition to getting paid is harder. Debt, debt, low income, more debt, jump off Brooklyn Bridge.


Some advice:


1) Look at some think tanks, NGOs, government positions that you think you might want in 5-10 years. Study the CVs of the people in those positions. There are a lot of acomplished, ecclectic people, but look for trends.


2) HUSTLE. Email those people and organizations. Get informational interviews about the day-to-day work like and the paths these people took to get where they are. Ask smart questions and be humble. Stay in touch. Use this info to determine if you really want this career.


3) Go to the best MA program you can get into, BUT: a) preference those in NY or DC (see #4) and b ) take scholarships if offered. Do NOT go to a school that seems ill-suited to set you up in meeting your goals!


4) HUSTLE. Attend lots of conferences and happy hours and events. Press the flesh (but don't be a suck up), get more informational interviews and stay in touch with all those people. To the well-networked go the spoils!


Edit: God, I HATE that stupid smiley in sunglasses. Has anyone ever used it on purpose or was it just created to annoy people that like lists?

Edited by GopherGrad
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I agree with the other two that PhD in political science doesn't sound like what you're looking for. If your interest is 'something international and humanitarian', what I think is best for you is to go work for a relevant NGO right after your graduation. Even though you're in neuroscience now, your cv looks like you won't have any problem getting a job in this area. After a few years of work, you can apply to one of these excellent IR or policy schools for masters: Georgetown, Harvard Kennedy, Tufts Fletcher, Columbia SIPA, Johns Hopkins SAIS, etc. Note that these are all professional schools, which means you won't gain much from the program if you don't have any working experience. When you're into your second year of the program, you would be in a good position to judge whether to go for a policy school PhD (presumably from the same school) or go back to the field in a more senior position. Professional schools and academics aren't totally mutually exclusive, but public policy/IR phd programs (IR as in that from IR schools (like studying peace negotiation at Fletcher), not IR from political science department) usually admit very few people each year, and they're often kind of looked down upon by other academic fields as not 'academic' enough, but you shouldn't care much about that if your interest leans towards the practical. my 2c.

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I really encourage you to think about combining your abilities in neuroscience and your interest in international affairs. Many entry-level jobs in international affairs are essentially clerical and administrative positions--you're not out there "helping the poor" on a daily basis! NGOs are especially well-known for taking hundreds of applications and then hiring someone with an M.A. to manage the filing cabinets. But your background in biology and neuroscience does set you apart. Think about international NGOs and others that work in health care, and international organizations like WHO, etc. You may find more meaningful work that allows you to stay connected with your current field. That way you can experience both sides of your current interests--biology & politics. You might find after a few years that you'd much prefer to become a lab scientist than a political scientist.


If you're not 100% sure about grad school, then don't force yourself into it. Give yourself a few years to see the world and what its like to work in it, then make a decision. Grad school is very expensive and only helps you if you know what you want out of it.

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