Should We Pursue Master and PhD Degree

by Nian Li

Posted on Januray 12, 2019

Considering whether to pursue a master or PhD degree used to be a question only for a minority of students. However, this question becomes so pervasive nowadays that nearly every undergraduate has to reflect it on during study. Hence, is either of these degrees necessary to us?

Though I am an electrical engineering undergraduate, I am familiar with most of engineering majors. Before we dive deeper, I would like to introduce briefly about master and PhD degree which only in engineering areas. Master has British and American style among western universities. British master provides either 1-year science degree or 2-year engineering degree while American master has no specific duration but most of universities provide 1.5-year degree on average. In comparison, duration of PhD normally varies from 4 years to 6 years depending on majors. Syllabus for master contains courses and projects (usually with professor) while it for PhD mainly contains project/research and teaching tasks. In conclusion, PhD is more like a full-time scientific job while master is a practical enhancement after graduation.

Hence, first question we want to ask is: what can we learn during master and PhD program? From my personal perspective, master and PhD focuses more specific in certain area compared to undergraduate education. Both make students learn knowledge via projects. However, Master leans to hands-on practice while PhD leans to new theories and technologies. Therefore, master program gives student a chance to sharpen their skills under a more specific area while PhD program makes student discover something which might be directly implemented during their future work.

Based on my experience, I once cooperated with different master and PhD students from different majors during our projects when I was in year 1 and year 2. I have to say they are much more experienced and versatile. For example, when we want to achieve a certain function and I have no idea how to realize it, they can always offer different suggestions and helps. When we encounter problem, they can always come up with different possible reasons. However, there is also an obvious shortage for them: they cannot do things that are out of their capabilities. For example, even in similar software programming area, people might be good at micro-processor or embedded system programming but have no idea to visual programming or artificial intelligence programming. In addition, I gradually find that not all subjects and skills in master and PhD courses can only be learned by master and PhD students since as an undergraduate I can do as well as them. And I firmly believe that there are some undergraduates, or even not undergraduates, can do things much better than those master and PhD degree holders. Famous examples are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, all without finishing their colleges.

From my point of view, the most important reason why students choose further study nowadays is higher degree requirements from our society. More and more positions set master and PhD degree as minimum requirement and some companies even do not provide positions for bachelors. On the other hand, with the popularization of high-level education, more and more people go to college and bachelor degree is not that competitive among candidates anymore.

Hence, if you are in following conditions, I think a master or PhD is necessary for you (please take it as a reference not a conclusion):

  1. You specifically know your dream jobs or dream companies require a master or PhD degree
  2. You are not able or hard to learn this knowledge or skill which is important to you after working.
  3. Topics in your undergraduate courses is too common and you wish to choose a more specific area to keep learning.
  4. Irresistible enthusiasm to study and research.

Famous writer Long Yingtai once wrote to her son: Kiddo, I ask you to study hard, not because I want you to compare yourself with others, but because I want you to have the right to choose in the future, to choose meaningful and time work, and not be forced to make a living. Last but not least, I wish you can find your meaning of studying in master and PhD program!