A high-level grasp of numerical data and scientific principles will take you far in tomorrow's economy. With biotech, energy research, environmental resource management, and financial mathematics leading commercial innovation, advanced science and math graduates can expect strong demand for their expertise. A master's degree offers a practical blend of technical training and leadership skills to help you grow your career in scientific R&D, public policy, business management, or education.
Master of Science and Professional Master's Degrees in Science and Math
Technological sophistication and competition have raised the educational bar for scientists and mathematicians. A bachelor's degree can qualify you for an entry-level position, but advancement into supervisory or teaching roles typically requires a master's degree in science or math. Since it is now possible to earn a master's degree online, more and more working adults are upgrading their resumes with this key credential.
The following master's degrees position you for different roles within scientific and quantitative industries:
- Master of Science (MS or MSc): The most common graduate science and math program combines advanced coursework in science and mathematics principles with an independent capstone project or thesis. In addition to a Master of Science in science and mathematics, you can find master's degrees in numerous sub-disciplines. For example, you can opt for a Master of Science in biology, or an MS in an applied field such as bioinformatics, biotechnology, or biochemistry.
- Master of Arts (MA): The MA in science or math takes a broader approach to the graduate curriculum, incorporating more humanities and social sciences courses (often in lieu of an applied science research project). This degree typically focuses on the intersection of science and math with the liberal arts, with an emphasis on education, anthropology and life sciences, or philosophy. Examples include the MA in science education, mathematics, and biology.
- Master of Applied Science (MAS): The Master of Applied Science was created to meet the advanced education needs of practicing scientists and mathematicians. While the Master of Science emphasizes research, the MAS focuses on high-level coursework and applied problem-solving. Applied master's degrees are typically offered via distance graduate education to accommodate working professionals.
- Professional Science Master's (PSM): The professional master's degree, a relatively new qualification, emphasizes applied science and math education as well as practical business training. Courses cover both technical skills and key business topics such as management, marketing, and communications. PSM degrees target an applied area in science or math, such as bioinformatics, computational sciences, environmental risk management, and more.
- Discipline-Specific Master's Degrees: Some graduate science and math programs emphasize a single applied discipline in the degree title. For example, the Master of Quantitative Finance offers a more technical education than the business-oriented Master of Science in quantitative finance.
- Interdisciplinary Graduate Science and Mathematics Programs: If your interest lies in the intersection of science and math with another discipline, look for an interdisciplinary master's degree. Examples include the Master of Education in science or mathematics and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) in financial mathematics.
Specializations in Science and Mathematics
In addition to basic science and mathematics fields--applied science and mathematics, science and mathematics education, science communications, or journalism--you can find master's degrees in the following specialized areas.
Advances in medical technology, such as genomics, and increased demand for medical services are shaping the Master of Science in biology. High-demand specialties include:
- Computation and neural systems
Environment and Energy
Climate change and dwindling natural resources, such as oil, are making environmental science and energy research a top priority. Master's degrees in these specialty areas include:
- Environmental science
- Geographical information systems
- Natural resource management
- Environmental risk management
- Sustainable energy
Chemistry is the foundation for research in medicine, agriculture, and environmental science. Graduate degrees focus on:
- Organic chemistry
- Medicinal chemistry
- Chemical engineering
Theoretical and applied mathematics plays a critical role in quantitative disciplines ranging from business to computer systems. Specialized master's degrees may focus on:
- Financial mathematics or quantitative finance
- Operations research (applied statistics)
- Mathematical systems modeling
- Computational mathematics
- Quantitative risk management
The Road Ahead for Graduate Science and Math Programs
Graduate science and math programs have taken on a higher profile since 2006, when various public and academic interest groups called attention to a critical shortage of graduate-level scientists and technical professionals in the U.S. Demand for graduate-level scientists and quantitative professionals will continue to surge through 2018, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report issued in 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts employment growth of 25 percent in scientific research and development. Meanwhile, expert technical consulting in certain high-demand specialties such as environmental, energy, and agriculture are set to surge an estimated 83 percent over the coming decade.
Innovation in the so-called STEM fields--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--will continue to be the bedrock of the nation's economic well-being. In recognition of the workforce demand for more graduate-level scientists and technical professionals, the federal government has partnered with universities and private foundations to rally support for graduate education in these areas. The American Competitiveness Initiative, the STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009, Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) programs, and NSF funding initiatives are promoting graduate science and math education. In addition, the ability to earn a master's degree online and new programs, such as the professional science master's (PSM), are also helping to increase access to graduate science and mathematics programs.
Graduate-Level Careers in Science and Mathematics
A Master of Science or professional master's degree can lead you into a number of high-level professional careers. Graduates of a science master's go on to positions in:
- Scientific research and development as analytic scientists, senior design engineers, or lab supervisors
- Scientific or technical business roles as quantitative operations managers, sales engineers, project managers, CTOs, and more
- Education as adult continuing education instructors, K-12 teachers, instructional designers, or education administrators
- Public service as policy consultants, public research scientists, or agency administrators
Support for STEM education is making it easier than ever to upgrade your graduate degree in science and math. Earn a master's degree online while you work, or work toward an on-campus professional science master's degree. With demand for technical innovation surging, the time is right to upgrade your scientific research and leadership skills.
- "Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services," Career Guide to Industries, Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Master of Financial Mathematics, University of Minnesota
- "Mathematicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics
- "Promoting Professional Science Master's Degrees," Inside HigherEd
- "Report Urges Renewed Commitment to Graduate Education," Council of Graduate Schools (Apr 26, 2007)
- "Scientific Research and Development Services," Career Guide to Industries, Bureau of Labor Statistics
- STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009, Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives (Jun 8, 2009)
- The Professional Science Master's Degree: Meeting the Skills Needs of Innovative Industries. NGA Center for Best Practices