Advice:Terminal Masters degrees

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Advice for students who intend to obtain a terminal masters degree (and leave academia afterwards)

If you want to get a MA degree and not pursue a PhD (at SBU or anywhere) then taking classes may not be the best use of your time and money, since the courses are generally designed to get you to pass the comprehensive exams and be ready to perform PhD level research. It is advised to take experimental or numerical physics courses with professors doing the kind of work you are interested in. There are other resources, not necessarily in the physics department (like in the Career Center), that can help you obtain the skills necessary to formulate a good application to further jobs outside of academia.

Suggested Timeline

First Year:

  • Take a course or two in a topic that you are interested in or that you think will be helpful for working and making successful job applications in the field that you are interested in.
    • Taking too many or too hard courses can end up hurting you in the long run, as they can take valuable time away from doing practical research and working with an advisor, and they can hurt your GPA and make your applications look worse than if more focus was placed on doing quality research or just getting good grades in a small number of courses
    • Sitting in on courses, not for credit, is entirely acceptable at SBU, and is done by many students for courses that would otherwise take too much time away from their other tasks.
  • Find a research advisor in a field that you are interested in.
    • Letters of recommendation from an advisor are critical for successful job applications, and advancing to the next stage in any field.
    • Research labs and theory groups are full of people to learn from and connections to collaborate in and outside of Stony Brook.
    • Check the Research Group list and Working Outside the Department Advice articles for more help finding people and groups to work with.
  • Finding a research position, even unpaid, for the first Summer is critical, as most productive research is done during the Summer months when teaching and committee loads are lessened for most researchers.
  • Don't worry too much about applying for graduate programs if that is your goal after the MA, as the applications are mostly due during December, after only having completed one semester of the MA (meaning that you application will not be significantly improved after just one semester).

Second Year:

  • You should come into your second year with a research group to work with and an idea of what kinds of things you can do for your MA thesis (you can also obtain the MA degree by passing the comprehensive exams at the MA level, but this may not be as attractive of an option as practical experience and letters of recommendation from an advisor, rather than course instructors)
  • If you want to go into a PhD program then during and after your third semester is the best time to make PhD applications.
  • By the end of your second Summer you should have finished your MA thesis research and defended your thesis before your committee.

Third Year and Beyond:

  • Ideally you will have graduated in 2 years, but if you find yourself in a third year of MA then you should definitely try to finish your thesis as soon as possible and apply for further technical skill schools (especially for computer science or quantitative finance jobs) or jobs.