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    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

    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."

    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

    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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