In some fields, a master's degree is the professional norm.
A master's degree generally entails 2 years of coursework. Some master's-degree programs require a research thesis, others do not. In the latter case, the master's degree is not so much a terminal degree as a recognition of the coursework and qualifying examinations completed after about 2 years in a doctoral program.
In recent decades, the 2-year master's degree has served in some fields as the terminal degree. For example, the American Society for Engineering Education in 1987 reaffirmed the appropriateness of the master's degree for engineering students not expecting to enter careers in research or university teaching (ASEE, 1987). About 4.6 times as many master's degrees in engineering are awarded each year as engineering PhDs (for comparison, the ratio in the physical sciences is close to unity) (NSF, 1994b). The master's degree is also a customary end point in public health, computer science, and bioengineering and for those who want to teach in high schools and community colleges.
Data on the number of master's degrees by field, sex, race, and citizenship are included in Tables B-16 through B-19 in Appendix B and on the employment of new master's-degree recipients in Appendix C.
Acquisition of research skills is central to the doctoral experience.
The typical PhD program constitutes a two-part experience of great depth and intensity that lasts 4 or more years. The first part consists of about 2 years of course work. The second part focuses on a doctoral dissertation based on original research that might take 2 or 3 years or more to complete. The dissertation, as a demonstration of ability to carry out independent research, is the central exercise of the PhD program. When completed, it is expected to describe in detail the student's research and results, the relevance of that research to previous work, and the importance of the results in extending understanding of the topic (CGS, 1990).
It is customary in most fields of science and engineering for a doctoral candidate to be invited to work as a research assistant (RA) on the project of a faculty member; an aspect of this research project often becomes the subject of the student's dissertation. A traditional expectation of many students (and their professors) is that they will extend this work by becoming university faculty members. If they do, promotion and tenure depend to a great extent on continuing research publication.
A properly structured requirement for demonstrated ability to perform independent research continues to be the most effective means to prepare bright and motivated people for