View Full Version : summary replies "question to potential employers"

03-22-2001, 08:26 AM
Hey all,
Below is a summary of the responses to the question I posed a few weeks
ago. Thank you to all who replied, it has certainly given me plenty to think
about. FYI, I received a number of responses from fellow students who wanted
to hear the responses.

Original question:
"I am a first year grad student trying to choose between a course-work
option or a thesis option for my degree. The question I have is how potential
employers would look at my resume with regards to a thesis vs. non-thesis
master's degree. I also am curious how this would affect pay and growth
potential. I think this would help numerous grad students and undergrads
looking at advanced degrees."

1.) choose the thesis option- i consider this a no-brainer i always break a
close recruitment with the project and applicants ability to describe it
class work cannot compare to a project in numerous factors

fyi, i direct a BME research lab within a rehab hospital and regularly hire
m.s level engineers
Stephen Sprigle gogators@compuserve.com

2.) It is going to partly depend upon the type of employment you are seeking.
I am currently a university faculty member at a medical center with Medical,
Dental, Nursing, and Allied Health schools. Research is usually expected to be
a component of faculty members job description and the research associates we
hire (usually with Masters degrees) are expected to be reasonably
self-starting and to carry a big part of the research on some projects. A
Master's degree without a thesis option would not prepare you as well for that
type of position. Previously, I worked for three different corporations in the
research area. At that time, I had a MS with thesis. My job responsibilities
included project design and budgeting, technician supervision, project
management, and report writing. The skills required for this type of position
also are better learned in a program with thesis because of the requirement
for literature research, project design, project defense and management and
the need to produce a carefully structured, defensible research report on
independent research with a sound basis in previously published research.

I would advise taking the thesis option.

Kenneth R. St. John, Ph.D. Phone: 601-984-6199
Assistant Professor Fax: 601-984-6087
Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation
University of Mississippi Medical Center

I am the supervisor of Biomechanics Research Engineering at the
TransportationResearch Center Inc. We do research on automotive occupant
biomechanics during a crash scenario as well as crash test dummy design and
development.For the work we conduct at our facility, a thesis option is much
preferred. Acandidate with a thesis would likely be selected over one with the
course work option if the two were equally qualified. Here's the reason:
thesis work demonstrates that a student can perform research and interact with
aspects of a team in conducting such research and that he/she has the ability
to put that research together into a substantial written document. Thesis
students also have experience presenting work and sometimes have all or pieces
of their work published. Since the engineers in my group are essentially
researchers who publish and present work, a thesis is a far better option.A
second thought. Employers sometimes view the course work option as the easier
way to get the degree, so a thesis adds credibility to your degree.Alena
HagedornSupervisor, Biomechanics Research EngineeringTransportation Research
Center Inc.

David: If you go to the industry, thesis is not necessary. It truly does not
make any difference. If you decide to pursue a PhD degree, then I would do a
thesis. Good luck.
Lee Cabell
Department of Kinesiology and Health Education
University of Texas at Austin

5.) Regarding your question on thesis vs. non-thesis masters: As a potential
employer, personally, I'd much rather see a thesis masters, since this means
the student has experience planning, budgeting, executing, and writing up a
research project. As much as you learn in classes, there's no substitute to
having practical experience, seeing all that can (and too often, will) go
wrong with physical experiments, realizing the differences between theory
and reality, etc. However, when I completed my oral exams for my Ph.D.
program, I was awarded a non-thesis master's degree -- with this degree, I
did some minimal interviewing and was readily offered a job (which I

The moral of this is that you can surely find a good career path regardless
of which type of degree you pursue, provided you learn both theoretical and
practical aspects of your chosen field. The more practical experience you
have, the better (as far as I am concerned, as a potential employer) -- be
it from thesis research, co-op working, internships, or previous jobs.

6.) If you want a good education, do a good thesis. If you want a mediocre
education, don't do a thesis.

Paul DeVita
university employee

7.) I went through the exact same dilemma during my master's career. Part of
was funding, part of it was actual project availability in my interest area.
In my opinion, unless you're going into a more research-devoted type of job,
either type of degree option applies. The coursework option actually
allowed me to broaden my mechanics and machining process knowledge (ChemEng
undergrad, ME master's) through my own classes and from being a TA for such
undergrad courses. I work for a spinal implant company and most of my work
is developing surgical instruments so my mat'ls knowledge is specific to a
few types (Stainless, Ti 6-4, some Al alloys), I have to have a decent
knowledge of machining processes available and applicable to what I'm trying
to develop, and finally, it's medical device stuff so there are outside
regulations governing the development process.

I enjoy what I do and I don't think that thesis vs. coursework was a
mitigating factor in my particular hiring situation or my pay scale. It
also depends what you're _willing_ do to right out of school, even w/ a
master's degree (e.g., I spent my first 6 mos. doing 80% CAD work).

Hope this helps and feel free to write if you have any other ?'s.

David A. Hanson
Sulzer Spine-Tech Product Development

8.) I can certainly understand the reasons for pursuing a non-thesis track.
For what its worth, however, it has been my experience that writing well takes
practice (something on which I am still working!). As such, my experience has
been that the students who write the best are the ones who obtained the most
practice during their studies (and not necessarily the ones who attended the
most prestigious programs or the schools with the highest price tags). The
thesis option would seem to fall into this category.

I might add that, if they are going into the business world, there is a need
to be able to communicate concisely, which would be aided by the practice; if
they are going into the world of academics, there is also a need to be able to
communicate consisely, but it also helps to be familiar with the conventions
in formatting and the like, which would also presumably be aided by additional
practice.Consequently, I would tend to encourage students, regardless of their
track, to obtain as much experience writing as they possibly can.

Hope this helps.

"Steve Page, Ph.D." spage@kmrrec.org

9.) Go for the thesis. And try to make it something practical that someone
might need the information for in the real world. If I were looking at a
potential employee with no experience and he or she had conducted research
that was of the type I might assign them I would be more interested.

I am the ergonomist for a company that mfgs computer furniture.

Good luck
Denny Ankrum CIE
Human Factors Research
Nova Solutions, Inc.

10.) I assume you're in biomechanics. I'm finishing a up Masters in
Biomechanics soon and my go is that thesis option is better. It depends
though. If you're looking at the industry, it might not matter as much,
but either way, most Biomedical Engineering Programs require a thesis and
give no coursework option like the one I am in. But I'm not familiar with
the schools that give this option in BME. For example, most computer
science people don't need to do a thesis really. Smaller scale projects
would do. And the industry is in such a position that if you have the
degree, you're good to go. But I'm still a student though. Check out what
some of the people who are currently in industry say....and do let me
know what they say. I'm interested in their responses as well. Good luck
in your decision.

Priya Radhakrishnan
Graduate Student
University of Illinois at Chicago

11.) While I'm not in business, with my experiences (BEng with thesis, PhD in
UK, post-doc in USA), I would recommend the thesis approach. Why: Well, it
you more to talk about in interviews; the scientific method is similar to a
lot of business approaches to problems - identify problem, form hypotheses,
research, analyse, conclude; if you work in a team you can talk about this;
if you chose the project carefully it could be relevant to what you want to
do later in life, and could get you an "in".

Good luck,

Dr. Alex Kerin
Center for Biomedical Engineering

12.) I'm biased because I did a thesis-based Master's, but my feeling is that
it's preferable because it gives one a specialty...something in which one
can take pride in being an "expert." I guess there's something to be said
for being a generalist, but it's my belief that you can't hedge your bets
forever, always saying "No, I don't have direct experience with that, but I
took a course in something similar and I'm very interested in the topic!"
Taking a course is a pretty poor substitute for direct hands-on project
experience. The skills acquired therein are much more transferable than
those learned in the classroom..IMHO.

More to your question, I don't think that my hospital's payscale delineates
between thesis- and course-based Masters. I'm involved in research at a
hospital, so my employment is tied to government grant money. If you're
looking at industry...well, that's where the real money is.

Cuz you know what a specialist is, right? Someone who knows more and more
about less and less until they know absolutely everything about nothing.

Samuel Lee, M.Sc.
Research Engineer
Hospital for Special Surgery
Department of Biomechanics & Biomaterials
New York, N.Y. 10021 U.S.A.
(212) 774-2382

13.) I'm also a grad student doing a Master's thesis. I'm doing experimental
work in biomedical engineering. Briefly, here's my idea of both paths.

1- The thesis work makes you learn more than your diploma will say. A
thesis (in my field at least) involves buying components (engineering),
making it work (engineering), setting up and developing a protocol
(experimental), analysing the data (theoritical, mathematical) and
writting up (?). If you want to go the fast track, don't take this path.
Every project involves problem solving that takes time. However, it's
experience under your belt, you get to decide what you want to do. YOU
have to take responsibilities wrt your project. You'll gain a lot of
knowledge and continuously face challenges. That's the way I took. To
make it faster, you can always switch to a Ph.D. without actually doing
an MSc. With this path, you also have more chances of geting funding
through provincial or federal agencies.

2- The course work is the fast track: 2 years you're out! I've never
done that, but I don't think you can gain as much experience and face as
great challenges that way. Things are sort of prepared for you
(courses). If you intend to work after, that extra knowledge is
certainly a plus compared to a BSc. However, compared to the thesis
work, I don't think that it is as well seen (although not all employers
know that).

Pay... don't think about academia if you're looking for a pay. Thesis vs
non-thesis doesn't make a difference I think. Growth potential... your
skills is what's going to help you move up faster. I'd go thesis and I
did. It's up to you.

Good luck, and HAVE FUN doing it.

Sylvain Couillard, MSc Student
Human Performance Lab (HPL), University of Calgary
sylvain@kin.ucalgary.ca http://www.ucalgary.ca/~scouilla/

14.) That's a hell of a good question. I'm in my first year of grad studies
i too had to choose between thesis or no thesis. On the advice of my
advisor i have decided to persue the thesis option simply because it is a
requirement for acceptance to many PhD programs. The theory behind this is
that you have one thesis paper under your belt and will therefore have no
trouble writing a second one to complete your doctorate work. However, if
you are not looking at PhD programs and are specifically interested in
what employers will think then i don't think it matters much. For most
potential employers a masters degree of any kind usually holds the same

Dann Goble
University of Windsor
Ontario, Canada

15.) Let me start by giving you some background. I work for the Neuroscience
at Wyle Labs, Inc. In my specific lab we use treadmill walking as a
perturbation to the vestibular system and study gait and coordination. Most
of our work is "operational", but we also perform a fair amount of research.
My Master's degree was completed via the thesis option.

I think that the answer to your question depends on the type of employer in
which you are interested. For instance, some base-manufacturing companies
may prefer more a theoretical approach (i.e., course-work). On the other
hand, if you wish to do research, the thesis-option is a necessity.

In my humble opinion though, I think the thesis-option is the best way to
go, no matter what. Doing a thesis will not hurt you in a manufacturing
setting, but not doing one will be a strike against you if you want a
research position. I.e., a thesis gives you access to a greater number of
employment areas. Other ways a thesis will help you in your future career

1) "Real" application of theory from many subjects simultaneously
(especially statistics!). Classes with labs tend to use experiments that
only deal with one concept/theory at a time. A thesis helps you "put it all

2) Experiments in a class are very controlled; you know what answers you
should get, and the answers come out "clean". In a thesis, you may get
unexpected or varying results, and you have to figure out why.

3) Most importantly, you learn to plan a project, research it, and complete
it. You must anticipate questions from your peers, design a robust
experiment, and draw conclusions from available data. This is valuable in
any work environment!

4) Finally, since you have to write and defend the thesis, you tech writing
and public speaking skills will improve. Every employer wants good
communication skills!

I admit that I had the same questions as you when I entered grad school.
But after I graduated, I realized that the thesis-option was the best way to

Best of luck.

Chris Miller
Biomechanical Engineer
Wyle Laboratories
Houston, TX

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