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 Message Boards » » thesis vs. non-thesis? Page [1]  
BigMan157
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I'm about to the breaking point of how much more school I can handle at the moment, and am curious how much going the non-thesis route would affect me were I to choose to eventually come back for a PhD.

Anyone have any insight they can shed on this?

3/15/2011 9:38:41 AM

neolithic
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What is your area? Are you going to come back to the same school or apply to a different school?

3/15/2011 9:52:58 AM

EuroTitToss
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I thought non-thesis was usually a terminal degree.

3/15/2011 9:59:10 AM

BigMan157
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ECE

I don't know, honestly. Maybe? I'm not even sure if I'd want to get a PhD at all, I just don't want to kill that possibility for myself.

I just know that, right now, I'm approaching my limit of how much I desire to do this. That could all change once I've had a few months/years off to recover. That's why I want to keep that avenue open if possible.

I'd like to do a thesis, it's just that at this point I'd like to be done with it all even more.

3/15/2011 10:02:40 AM

neolithic
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In general, doing the thesis will serve you better in the long run. It is a stronger degree (for most programs there is a difference between a master of science in ECE as opposed to a masters of ECE, with the former being the thesis based degree.) so applying to PhD programs down the road will be easier, especially if any journal articles or publications come out of your thesis.

However, if you plan to stay within your current program, it might not matter that much. I know people in my program will just get the terminal masters and then come back in a few years, pass the qualifier and continue with the PhD. You'd need to check with your department about that though.

[Edited on March 15, 2011 at 10:31 AM. Reason : run not wrong]

3/15/2011 10:19:31 AM

darkone
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I would never accept you as a PhD student if I knew you didn't stick it out to write your masters thesis.

3/15/2011 4:54:04 PM

0EPII1
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yeah, how you gonna do a phd thesis if you can't/don't want to do a master's thesis?

3/15/2011 8:08:12 PM

FykalJpn
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engineer's degree

3/15/2011 8:30:45 PM

egyeyes
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^^, ^^^

3/15/2011 10:25:58 PM

BlueMoon001
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don't listen to these people. You can do whatever you want. And ^^^^ is completely wrong. A professor is never going to know that you started off as MS and switched to non thesis. And he's not going to care if you come back with a good idea/project to work on ( that relates to his research ).

Personally I would never do a PHD because it would actually limit you as to the number of jobs you can get.

[Edited on March 16, 2011 at 11:57 AM. Reason : x]

3/16/2011 11:57:00 AM

cschp
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I'll take some counter-points to keep it interesting.

First, if your goal is to be a working engineer and not an academic, there is very little need for a PhD or a thesis masters program (unless you want to work in R&D). You will get a great return on your masters (thesis or non-thesis) in the workplace and it will give you a leg up on the competition. To get a PhD in this case would be law of diminishing returns - you could have spent all that time and effort working on your own career and raking in $$$. Know when enough education is enough.

If your goal is to be an academic, the thesis option will probably help you. I could click off a long list of names of in the computer science PhD program who did a non-thesis masters degree. You could say that writing a thesis in a masters program is a pre-req... not necessarily. There are plenty of people who go directly from undergrad into doctoral studies. They didn't write a thesis in undergrad, so it follows that this is not a strict requirement. But the thesis can still be helpful (you might get invited into the PhD program as opposed to having to apply).

If your goal is to someday teach at the college level (ie not be a full-fledged researcher), you don't need a PhD. Some of NC State's best CSC professors (Lasher, Miller, etc) didn't have one. Some of the most effective teachers bring value to the classroom by way of their industry background.

Lastly, if you are burning out, consider that a career in academia is probably not for you. It's not for most people, and it's not for me. It's not a matter of if you could do it (ie academically qualified and capable), it is a matter of if you want to do it. We've got only one life to live, and every commitment is a big-time opportunity cost. It may be God's pleasure to call you home earlier than you planned. You could finish your masters and spend five more years going after a PhD you may not want, or spend precious time with your spouse and kids, or you could go on a ten year tour of hot tubs full of super models. Use your time wisely!

[Edited on March 16, 2011 at 12:07 PM. Reason : na]

3/16/2011 12:05:49 PM

ncsujen07
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I think it really depends on your program. I went the non-thesis route (no desire for a PhD in my field), but we still had to do a research project. When we presented them at the end of the year, you couldn't tell who wrote a thesis and who did a research project. As far as getting your PhD, a thesis may give you a leg-up. I know some schools require a thesis so if you didn't do one during your masters years, you may have to do one AND a dissertation.

3/16/2011 3:40:16 PM

darkone
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^^^ How is my opinion of what I look for in my PhD students wrong? There is a lot of risk involved in recruiting graduate students. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% leave their program before they finish. When that happens, that means that I, as a PI, have essentially wasted 1 to 2 years worth of tuition and stipend money from my grant with almost nothing to show for it in terms of progress towards my grant objectives. A prospective student who has shied away from finishing their master's thesis has already shown a willingness to leave a research project before it's completed and represents too high a risk for it to be worth spending precious grant funds to hire them.

3/16/2011 3:52:16 PM

crocoduck
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I would advise against changing from a MS to a non-thesis master's degree route. As you've stated, you have at least some interest in pursuing a PhD in the future. I'd wager that the best way to decide if you are cut out for the job of completing PhD coursework and writing a dissertation is to complete master's level coursework and write a thesis.

[Edited on March 16, 2011 at 6:25 PM. Reason : Why not just take a semester off?]

3/16/2011 6:24:41 PM

Stein
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Quote :
"A professor is never going to know that you started off as MS and switched to non thesis."


This is not always true.

3/16/2011 10:40:16 PM

BigMan157
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I suppose I should mention i'm currently a non-thesis student, but entered the program assuming i'd switch over eventually to doing a thesis, so it's not going to reflect that i quit on it in my record.

I have taken a semester off, the problem is i'm also working full-time while trying to do this, so it wasn't really "off".

[Edited on March 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM. Reason : moar]

3/17/2011 1:59:02 PM

quagmire02
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thesis = academic = research
non-thesis = professional = application

[Edited on March 19, 2011 at 3:47 PM. Reason : i can see why some would think a non-thesis degree is "terminal," but that's not always true]

3/19/2011 3:46:48 PM

AstralAdvent
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Seems obvious, but talk to devisikotis (sp?) About this. I know at ncsu you can definitely be accepted into a doctoral program with a nonthesis masters. I believe he said that these days in ece you only really need to do thesis if you want to work in research/teach at a uni. But I could be wrong. Ask someone in ece380 I wasn't really paying attention... either way he did the grad school lecture the other class. I think parentcanpay is in that class also

I'm astraladvent and I approved this message.

3/19/2011 3:57:13 PM

Stryver
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I'm a current PhD student and I completed a non-thesis masters. I also had a slightly different career path. I was military for 10 years, semi-related operationally, but no research on the CV. I did the master's as a distance student at State while military, and did very well in the program and on the GRE.

The professors I asked said it was weaker, research-wise, than if I had done a thesis, but was only apart of the whole application. 3 out of 4 schools I applied to accepted me. (Stoopid terps...)

There's your anecdotal, single-data-point trend.

3/23/2011 10:33:39 PM

EuroTitToss
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^^^speaking for myself, this is where I got the notion:

Quote :
"The Master of Computer Science program is a terminal professional degree program. The degree is based on course work and attendance at colloquia. No research, thesis or comprehensive examination is required. "

http://www.csc.ncsu.edu/academics/graduate/degrees/mcs.php

I guess that only applies to that particular program though.

3/24/2011 10:31:55 AM

wdprice3
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Non-thesis degrees are traditionally meant for working professionals needing/wanting to come back for further education/training/paperwork. All include coursework, some include a project, akin to a senior design project, though often larger in scope. These degrees are typically not the route for undergrad to grad students; many employers prefer thesis-based, while some don't care. Thesis-based doesn't mean Ph.D./academic track. It's almost unheard of to get these degrees paid for by the school. While a non-thesis is perfectly fine for undergrad-to-grad, from my experience and research, it's not necessarily the best way to go.

Thesis degrees are traditionally for undergrad-to-grad students, working professionals needing/interested in some research directly related to their work. These degrees are a much better bang for your buck and are often paid for by the school. You gain so much more from a thesis/research based degree - you take the same classes as non-thesis, but you add in some, if not all of these elements: research, planning, project management, construction/manufacturing, testing, inspecting, technical writing, professional presentations, often several future job/resource contacts, prepares you for future academics (if needed; non-thesis to Ph.D. is not a preferred route). Essentially, you open more doors this way; it's always better to have these open doors than not.

Lastly, if you truly value new experiences, learning, and your education, thesis-based is the way to go. While some claim/say they've seen non-thesis based projects be comparable to thesis-based projects, I'm willing to bet this is a small minority, or the department just has some shitty thesis projects. There is a lot of satisfaction knowing that you performed the research, analyses, testing, construction, etc. and that your name goes on the definitive paper for such work - you become the world's leading expert in that particular area (which may be quite small, i.e. limited to just your research topic/trial, or quite large). In my case, as far as we (my committee and I) know, I am the world's sole expert on the technology that my project was based upon. There are a few people (my major advisor, 1 committee member, and 1 previous grad student) that know a lot about the technology and could help to successfully implement it; however, there is still one person (me) that knows more about the nuts and bolts of this technology. And in this case, it is a new technology, born from existing, but presents a completely new method.


As far as Ph.D.s, it really depends on the field, company, and your specific work. More often than not, working engineers don't need Ph.D.s and many times it may hamper you in your early career. However, if your work would benefit from a Ph.D., then it is obviously the route to go.

I am an engineer and my company strongly prefers thesis-based degrees. Whoever said thesis degrees aren't for engineers is wrong. There is no way that a non-thesis degree provides you more than a thesis degree, especially in engineering.



TLDR: go thesis based; it's worth a lot more; you get a lot more out of it; it's great (often preferred) for engineers



[Edited on March 25, 2011 at 10:02 PM. Reason : .]

3/25/2011 9:50:21 PM

EuroTitToss
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personally, a thesis scares the shit out of me

I wouldn't even know where to begin

3/26/2011 8:24:46 AM

wdprice3
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the hardest part is the literature review. and that part fucking sucks.

but most, if not all, departments require you to take an intro class, typically called seminar, which introduces you to the thesis, writing, presentation, research, etc.

3/26/2011 9:27:34 AM

cschp
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@wdprice3: You mention that it is unheard of for the school to pay for non-thesis, definitely true. Of course the flip-side is that the if you are getting non-thesis, get it paid for by your company.

The people who get the worst of both worlds take out a loan for graduate education on their own dime. Anyone even considering this needs to seriously get out a calculator and figure out if you will ever live to see the payback. Almost all masters programs, thesis or non-thesis, exist to fund the sponsored phd students. No problem if the school or your company picks up the masters bill, but incredibly risky otherwise.

I'm getting to an age where I'm seeing what happened to my friends who took out big education loans - they are approaching mid-career and the debt has snowballed. At the time they were students they reasoned that nothing should stand in the way of opening doors to a brave new world of enlightenment, even if that cost a couple hundred thousand. Now they are enlightened to some basic truths in personal financial planning.

3/27/2011 9:31:44 AM

wdprice3
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well yeh, if you're a working professional coming back to get a masters, always have it paid for... thesis by work or the school, or non-thesis by work. I meant that non-thesis will not be paid by the school, so anyone who does undergrad-to-grad for non-thesis will be paying for a lot more schooling.

3/27/2011 10:05:24 AM

Samwise16
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My degree doesn't include writing a thesis, but we do have to complete a big project (and if we want to take it further and work hard enough to get published, we can).

I think most of the GC programs don't require a thesis. But, most of the graduates don't go on to do research and there isn't a PhD program yet..

So I guess I have a little bit of a skewed view, but does it really affect you that much by not completing one?

3/27/2011 1:24:09 PM

darkone
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From my perspective, completing a non-thesis program isn't a significant handicap. What will raise flags is anything that gives the appearance of bailing on your master's thesis because, as a potential PhD candidate, it calls into question your reliability and makes PIs worry that you might bail on your research after they've allocated their grant resources. Changing from a thesis to a non-thesis option should be a circumstance that a potential PhD student should expect to have to explain in detail. Furthermore, anyone who makes that switch should be aware that it's a decision that could potentially impact whether they'll even been considered for a PhD program. YMMV

3/27/2011 6:48:05 PM

NCSUDiver
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If you're working full time then the non-thesis route is fine as long as you can demonstrate to a PhD admissions committee that you're capable of doing research. I did a distance ed M.Eng degree, and one of my professors knew me well enough to offer to be on my committee in addition to being a reference so that helped. It also didn't hurt that I wrote my own grant proposal and included enough extra money for my advisor's time plus funding a second PhD student full-time. In my case, the PhD I'm going for is Civil Engineering/Project Management concentration so being a competent professional makes up for the lack of a MS. If you've got a solid professional resume that demonstrates leadership experience along with some knowledge in the area you want to do research in, there's no reason to burn yourself out by doing a thesis on top of a career.

3/28/2011 7:09:20 PM

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