Using A Master’s Degree As a Bridge Toward Your Ph.D.

 

If you are thinking of beginning a master’s degree with an eye to going on to a terminal degree, enrolling in a Master’s to Ph.D. bridge program may be an option to consider.  Bridge to doctorate programs are designed to help students transition easily from master’s degree programs to Ph.D. programs. Bridge programs at various universities accept students into their master’s program when they have the intention of continuing on into the doctoral program. A bridge program is usually around a two-year program for students with a bachelors degree in a closely related field to the one they would like to pursue. The students who would fit best with a bridge program are motivated to pursue a Ph.D., but require additional coursework, training, and research experience in order to excel in a Ph.D. program.

 Economics

In a bridge program, usually, either the Ph.D. program or both the master’s and Ph.D. programs are fully or partially funded which makes it a highly desirable economical choice. The financial perks of being in a bridge program are numerous. First, admittance into a bridge program will often ensure that all tuition expenses will be covered. Sometimes a bridge program will require a student to cover the cost of the master’s degree, but upon completion of the requirements, cover the tuition of the doctorate. Even this option is a big relief for graduate students since it relieves the stress and potential expense of applying again to a doctorate program once they complete their masters. On top of covering tuition expenses, a bridge program will often grant students a monthly living stipend that ranges from around $2,000 – $3,000 a month. Travel funds to cover the attendance of conferences are often also given to bridge students. Usually, a bridge program includes medical insurance or an additional stipend that allows a student to purchase medical insurance: an important benefit for a graduate student since medical insurance can be a hefty expense for students. With the increased cost of education, going through the extra steps of applying to a bridge program can bring much financial relief to students.

 Educational Support

A bridge program usually goes beyond the traditional classroom mode. Although students will take critical advanced undergraduate and graduate courses, usually a bridge program includes substantial, multifaceted, mentoring and tutoring. A bridge student may be and is often assigned a faculty research mentor in order to be guided in the specific skills that will assist them in their research. These mentoring relationships between students and faculty foster a successful transition from the Masters to the Ph.D. in more than one way. It helps students to be ahead of the game in their research projects and emphases as well as more immediately comfortable in their doctorate environment.

Some of the classes and research that students in bridge programs are engaged in will likely be with students already in the Ph.D. program. Students in a bridge program take graduate-level courses, often alongside first-year doctoral students. This allows them to develop their skills in a structured environment that prepares them well for their own Ph.D. work. It also gives them a jump start into relationships that will likely continue into their doctorate period. Having colleagues that you already know and have worked with as you enter a doctorate program is a huge advantage.

Other areas in which bridge students will likely receive personal coaching are GRE and interview preparation. Many master’s degree students have to seek out this kind of one-on-one counseling and support whereas bridge students will be well prepared for their testing and interview process. Another personal coaching area is usually in the development of personal statements and proposal developments. As support in these areas is invaluable, the educational security of a bridge student is often more readily established.

Efficiency

Often, doctoral coursework can start during the first year of a bridge program. Some bridge programs may also allow students access to summer graduate courses. By getting a jump-start on their graduate work, students of bridge programs will be ahead of the game class-wise and intellectually. That extra time, when classwork is finished, to write their dissertation will be greatly appreciated by bridge students.

However, efficiency does not only apply to time and space. Bridge students will likely also be more emotionally equipped for the challenges that face Ph.D. students. They will have had not only mentoring and classes from professors in the doctoral program that they will be entering but also been proven to succeed in the level of classes they can expect at the Ph.D. level.  Because students will enter the Ph.D. program having already completed substantial graduate coursework and research, they will feel much more comfortable in their doctoral surroundings.

Bridge students will also usually use their summer to do research, possibly even full-time. It is commonly understood in Ph.D. programs that conducting research is perhaps the most important aspect of the pursuit of the Ph.D. A Ph.D. is a research degree and figuring out what research project you would like to be engaged in is a fundamental part of completing your Ph.D. successfully.  Being able to add a strong research component to one’s CV is a vitally important part of being successful not only in one’s doctoral program but for acquiring a position after graduation. Preparing the focus of concentration for graduate work while still acquiring a master’s degree will put bridge students in good stead for completing their Ph.D. dissertation which arguably, is the most difficult part of completing a Ph.D.

Application

Applying to a bridge program may require a bit more work than applying to a master’s program. An additional essay detailing one’s experience, research interests or special qualifications may be necessary. Sometimes a separate application is required. It may be necessary to apply to the bridge program at a specific school and also to the bridge program that works with that school. One example is the APS physics bridge program. The APS- BP is “developing a national network of doctoral-granting institutions where bridge and other students if admitted, will receive mentoring and assistance in making the transition into a doctoral program.” When applying to one of the member institutions of APS-BP, students will apply both to APS-BP and to the member institution itself.

Another thing to keep in mind is that admission into a Ph.D. program is not always guaranteed for those students who are part of a bridge program. Some schools have specific requirements that must be met before being officially accepted. Some schools’ requirements include a 1-year review process or a further application after completion of the master’s degree. Other requirements may be qualifications such as a master’s completed within a 2-year limit; achievement of competitive GRE scores, original research conducted; presentations given and publications submitted; successful advancement to a Ph.D. program.

Remember throughout the application process to proofread everything very carefully! Bridge to doctorate programs are quite exclusive and putting your best foot forward could make all the difference in being accepted. According to one study, half of all CVs received by recruitment consultants contain spelling or grammatical errors. Candidates aged 21-25 are the most likely to make these mistakes and graduates in this age group are twice as likely to make mistakes as those who did not attend university. Since communication skills are extremely important throughout the Ph.D. process, be sure to emphasize your ability by carefully submitting your application.

Research

The importance of research for a doctoral program has already been emphasized. When applying to a bridge program, students will advise the school of their research interests. This will be necessary whether or not a student’s interests are the same as their previous experience, A student’s research interests are especially important if a school is considering them for not just their master’s but also Ph.D. program. Students should be as direct as possible about their interests. Areas for applicants and students in a bridge to doctorate program to cover are: What they want to do; Who they would like to work with; What they are interested in and their Flexibility level. These should all be included in a research essay. Institutions are very concerned that a student’s interests fit in the department long-term and vice-versa. Before applying to a bridge program, be sure to identify your interests, since you will be studying the topic for many years and probably your whole life!

Fairness

In some instances, master’s to Ph.D. bridge programs can be a good option for those who are under-represented. An example is Fisk-Vanderbilt’s Master’s to Ph.D. Bridge Program which was co-founded in 2004 by Vanderbilt University astronomy and physics professor Keivan Stassun and professor of physics David Ernst as well as Fisk University professor of physics Arnold Burger. The program is designed to address the unfair process of filtering out students for STEM PhDs. According to Stassun, “The GRE can’t read traits like perseverance, experience with failure, working through adversity, and communication and networking skills – things that make up the people [who have] the grit to get through a Ph.D. program.” The APS physics bridge program which was mentioned earlier is also committed to ensuring equal opportunity for those interested in the field of Physics.

 Various Disciplines

Master’s to Ph.D. bridge programs are offered in many and various disciplines or areas of study. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) studies, as well as PhD programs in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Health, have bridge programs instituted to assist students to become professionals in their field. Applying to a bridge program requires a student who is sure of what they want to study and committed to following through to the Ph.D. level. Being accepted to a bridge program will give students a sense of security and is an excellent way to freely pursue research as well as the potential to effectively complete their terminal degree.

Whatever your field of study, a bridge to doctorate program may be a great option, depending on your level of commitment to pursuing a terminal degree in your field as well as your ability to stay focused and concentrated for the duration.