Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ask the Administrator: Second Master's, or Ph.D.?

A new correspondent writes:

I have a dilemma. I currently writing my thesis for a MS degree (industrial management). My committee has the rough draft to evaluate. Expected graduation was the end of this spring but summer or fall is a becoming more realistic. I intend to go on for a PhD (Business Administration w/ a operations/technology management specialization), and then pursue a academic career (teaching and/or administrative). I am considering pursuing a second masters degree (MBA) with a dual specialization before the PhD. Why a second masters?
To pick up two related additional specializations (computer science/MIS and finance) to expand my skill and teaching set and increased potential for different industry positions. OM areas, both in academia and industry, often use computer science and financial skills and modeling in problem solving/teaching. I realize it may or may not be difficult to land a full time academic job and will likely have to work as an adjunct, primarily online, while maintaining a job in industry until I can make the formal transition into academia. Additionally, I have a liberal arts BA, but have worked in industry for more than a decade and have several professional certifications (ASQ)-primarily in Quality, and am under the impression that the additional specializations/courses would strengthen a lack of a technical undergrad foundation and possibly bring more to the hiring table, primarily for academic teaching.
So you may still be wondering why a second masters over graduate certificates? My next school offers 18 credit hr (6 courses) graduate certificates in the above noted specializations. There is no tuition discount of any sort for the graduate certificates alone, but if the specializations are part of a degree program, then tuition discounts are applicable. I would receive the schools highest per credit hour discount for government employees, since I work as a village trustee part time. Taking 2 graduate certificates alone would cost about the same as and MBA with a dual specialization. Also, to take the graduate certificates, a completed masters degree is required; whereas, I could potentially start the MBA while finishing my MS thesis.
My second concern is about the number of credit hours in a PhD specialization. My next school has a 51 credit hr PhD w/ 18 hrs/6 courses (5 electives + 1 capstone) in a given specialization. I was considering taking 11/12 courses in the specialization for the following reasons: 1. Interesting courses I haven't seen @ other universities. 2. I've learned most schools require 12, 15, 18 or 24 hrs in a given area to teach, with 18 being the magic number. 3. Thought it, very current courses/topics, may bring more to the hiring table for academic positions, besides intrinsic learning value.
So could you offer your advice about the second masters before the PhD. Is it a worthwhile pursuit, meaning that it can achieve what I think it could achieve, over kill an just more student loan debt, or it's not necessary since I intend to pursue the PhD? If you don't think it's a worthwhile pursuit, how else can I build skills/branch out/move into related areas primarily for teaching (and possibly industry positions).
Could you also offer your advice about taking more course in my intended PhD specialization than is required. Is it worth it or not, meaning just finish and get the degree? Was my line of thinking correct as for
hiring purposes or is my impression misinformed.

There's a lot here, so I'll just focus on what I take to be the core question.

If you have two master's degrees, or three, or four, you've achieved the Master's level. If you have one doctorate, you've achieved the doctoral level. A second (or higher) master's keeps you at the master's level. It can give you greater breadth, but that's not the same as greater depth. It's also not the same level of credential, especially for administrative positions, which often require a doctorate.

I'm no expert in your field, but I can say that when we hire Business faculty, we look for both the master's (at least) and some industry experience. A second master's wouldn't mean much, unless it gave you competence in an entirely different field. One master's plus industry experience would be better than two master's. Of course, a doctorate plus industry experience would be even better.

Once you have a strong graduate credential, your undergraduate major really doesn't matter. I wouldn't worry about that.

I've seen positions posted that ask for a master's in one area, and at least 18 graduate credits in another. The problem with those is that they're tough to predict. In my observation, they're usually at very small schools that can't afford specialists in every area, so they look for utility infielders. From your description of your fields, it doesn't sound like you'd be targeting very small schools.

In terms of extra coursework before the doctorate, I'm skeptical. If it's for the sheer love of learning, whatever. But doctoral students often bog down at the dissertation stage, getting stuck in ABD limbo for years and years. Adding coursework would take an already-too-long program and make it even longer. Although one could argue that ABD is higher than master's, most of the time, you either have the doctorate or you don't. The worst finished dissertation is better than the best unfinished one. As an old grad school professor of mine liked to say, a dissertation is just a plumber's license; it lets you go fix pipes. You either have the license or you don't. I wouldn't advise doing anything that could get in the way of finishing. Love of learning is well and good, but a Ph.D. is a professional degree first and foremost. Don't do it unless you're serious about finishing; if you're serious about finishing, don't let yourself get distracted with extra coursework.

Certainly if you want to move into administration, you frequently won't be able to go above the department chair level without a doctorate.

One admin's opinion, anyway. As always, your mileage may vary.

I'd love to hear from those wise and worldly readers who went for two master's degrees, rather than a doctorate. Did it help? Did it help as much as a doctorate would have?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.