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Research in industry with just a masters?

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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Joe W. » Fri Apr 28, 2006 6:21 pm

Hello everyone,

I'm 30 years old and just finished my masters degree in biology. Throughout that time, I've held a full time job in an IT department(not biology related). I've really enjoyed my masters experience and want to further pursue research. I've been seriously thinking about going for a PhD in a biomedical field. I don't feel that I want a career in academia, but would like to enter industry.

here's my dilemma...I continue to find very conflicting opinions about this. Do you need a PhD to do research in industry? My thesis advisor and other faculty members at my university are very adamant that you don't need one. They believe
you can find a good job doing research at the masters level. There is also downsides of a PhD program to consider...long hours, little pay,average 5-7 years to complete(not to mention a post doc). A person with a masters could get a job now and work their way up in a company gaining experience and probably more pay along the way.

However, I've seen people on this forum have the opinion that there is "glass ceiling" in industry. People with masters can only advance so far, and
sometimes they're looked down on as just "lab techs". I would like to be in a position to really contribute and not be just another set of hands at the bench. I'm confused by all this...

A PhD program sounds very exciting to me, but it's such huge investment. Maybe this is my fault, because I don't have direct experience working in industry. Perhaps I should get a job now for 1 or 2 years, then make a decision about a PhD. I would appreciate any advice...

thanks
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Derek McPhee » Fri Apr 28, 2006 6:34 pm

The glass ceiling thing for people without a PhD will depend on the company. In some companies indeed certain job titles are only available to people with certain qualifications and certain levels of responsability are only available to people with certain job titles, so there a master's would not get you very far. In others (mine for example) everyone is responsible for their own research projects regardless of their degree. On the other hand, if you decide to go for the PhD, by the time you finish the degree + maybe a postdoc you may be close to 40, and finding a first job in industry at that age is not going to be easy at all, as you will be competing with a pool of younger candidates with the same work experience and a pool of people of the same age with a lot of experience.
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Joe W. » Fri Apr 28, 2006 6:51 pm

Thanks DJM, I guess that's the tradeoff...education vs experience. The thought of taking another 10 years (phd + postdoc), before I could start looking for a job scares me. I haven't completely ruled out academia. Things to think about.
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Kevin Foley » Fri Apr 28, 2006 7:37 pm

If you want to "run the show" in the biotech industry, as far as research goes, you need a PhD. I can think of exceptions, and I am sure others can as well, but this is generally a true statement. Biotech is not like finance, or the software industry, etc. MS degrees don’t give you sufficient training/experience at being an independent researcher, and you will not get that training/experience in industry, so you will never catch up to those with PhD’s. PhD programs are a pain in the butt (read half of the last 100 posts!), but if you are successful, you’ve really had a trial by fire that you can’t get any other way.

However, there are great opportunities in biotech for people with MS degrees to move out of research and into areas such as Business Development, Program Management, Regulatory Affairs, etc. In these cases, you can still have the opportunity to "run the show,” because the critical training comes from experience on the job, and can’t be gained in academia.

I know plenty of Directors and even VP’s who don’t have PhD’s, but very few of them are doing research. However, they do have important, satisfying and well-compensated jobs.

Cheers,
Kevin
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Masters programs?

Postby Luke » Sat Apr 29, 2006 8:22 pm

"However, there are great opportunities in biotech for people with MS degrees to move out of research and into areas such as Business Development, Program Management, Regulatory Affairs, etc. In these cases, you can still have the opportunity to "run the show,” because the critical training comes from experience on the job, and can’t be gained in academia. "

Thanks for posting this. I'm becoming increasingly interested in a position such as those you mentioned after beginning to have serious doubts about getting a PhD. I'm an undergrad, by the way. However, it seems to me that since there has been such a shift towards everyone "needing" a PhD in science there are far fewer programs that offer a terminal masters degree. In particular, most of the top schools seem to offer only a PhD track. For someone coming out of college looking to go into Business Management or Regulatory Affairs, what is the best course to take?

Enter a PhD program and then "drop out", asking the program to award a Masters (this seems a bit disingenuous to me)? Enter a Masters program at a mid-range school? Try to obtain employment with only a BS (is this possible)? Or are there good Masters programs that I am overlooking?

I recognize that in order to advance in the business side of things it will probably be necessary to get an MBA at some point, but I've heard it's better to get some industry experience first.

Thanks for any guidance.
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Masters programs?

Postby Todd Graham » Sat Apr 29, 2006 11:40 pm

Kevin, I'm inclined to agree, but only to a point. The question is what exactly does he mean by running the show. If he means just being a lab manager, then he can do that with a Master's easily. In fact, those tend to be fertile grounds to get into business development, regulatory affairs and the like. Also, big pharma tends to give more opportunities to Master-level people in my experience than biotech, for a variety of reasons.

Also, to go on an aside, I think you give those other paths short shrift. You are right, but you seem to be arguing from a negative mindset. Doing business development is a positive, not a negative.
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Apr 30, 2006 3:32 am

"My thesis advisor and other faculty members at my university are very adamant that you don't need [a PhD]. They believe you can find a good job doing research at the masters level.

I've read all the responses on this thread (finally got to a hotel, off the ship now and have a 24 hour internet pass). I believe this is a subject that everyone views through their own, unique perspective. Kevin, who is a new Adviser to this site effective tomorrow, is absolutely correct about the biotechnology industry. There are very, very few companies who allow any MS graduate to run a research program. Perhaps Genentech can point out a couple of examples, or maybe Amgen, but the rule tends to be that you need a PhD to do your own research in industry in a biotech company. There are PhD's EVERYWHERE in those organizations, running most departments.

In the pharma environment, which Todd and DJM are most familiar with, there are lots more examples of MS graduates who do independent research. Joe's question, the original one which started the thread, refers to "doing research" as opposed to "running the show." So, Joe you can find a job in a big pharma company (maybe 30-40% of them) where you can eventually do your own research as a Masters graduate. However, still the majority will have you doing someone else's work as a "pair of hands" in the lab. And it is most often the PhD who rules the roost at the higher levels of management, even in those 30-40% of companies who allow MS grads to reach the scientist rank.

I have tried time and again to get people from terminal MS programs, such as friends at Keck in the LA area, to come and tout their programs here on this forum, which is so often full of negative comments about the PhD process. I get no response, no interest. I have a feeling I know why this is. My guess is that many graduates from Masters programs expect to be in "biotech management" and instead they are off doing work in lower level positions. C'mon, if you've got this degree, stop lurking and post about your success!

At the time we did the forum survey about two months ago, I had two individuals (anonymous responses, as they all were in that survey) who have BS or MS degrees and whom have been many years employed in industry doing research -- one of them for 20 years. It would be very much appreciated if one or both could come out and talk about this a bit more on the forum.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

PS - Hey Joe . . . Your idea to work for a year or two with a MS might be a good one. Perhaps there will be changes in the PhD process in the next couple of years that will mean the degree is more "user friendly" and made to fit industry needs instead of the academic pipeline. . . Dave
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Drew Parrish » Sun Apr 30, 2006 4:35 pm

I'd like to echo what Dave has said about masters degrees in biotech. There is definitely the odd example of a BS/MS that manages their own lab where I am, but it seems to mostly be the exception. To illustrate, I have two research associates with masters and many more years of experience in research (and industry) than I do, but they still report to me - a PhD four years out of school. One definitely wants to have their own research program, but they're still several years away from that - not for lack of ability, but for lack of a PhD.
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Todd Graham » Sun Apr 30, 2006 4:48 pm

Brilliantly said, Dave. I couldn't have said it better. And thanks for introducing the edit function. I just realized I wrote one clunker of a sentence.

To tack on to what the original poster said, it's all a question about environments. While big pharma and biotech overlap a lot, there are difference in modus operandi and culture between the two, and it's a question of what you want to end up doing down the line. Perhaps a year or two in the industry will tell you how things can work out.
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Research in industry with just a masters?

Postby Derek McPhee » Sun Apr 30, 2006 5:07 pm

I have to agree with this one - I too am aware of several such individuals in large companies and the only one whose career really took off was after he did a PhD part-time with company sponsorship.
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