National Research Council Supports Professional Master's Degrees Like ORIE's
In a major report, Science Professionals: Master’s Education for a Competitive World, the National Research Council (NRC), on behalf of the US National Academies of Science and of Engineering, recommends the establishment of Professional Science Masters (PSM) programs in the natural sciences. These programs are intended to provide Masters level graduate education in the natural sciences that meet growing employer needs for graduates with “deeper, more advanced scientific knowledge than is typically obtained in a four-year program.” They would be distinct from (and supplement) Master of Science degree programs that have “typically signified either a ‘stepping-stone’ en route to the doctorate or a ‘consolation prize’ for those not admitted to candidacy or dropped out,” according to the report.
The report recommends that PSM programs offer “opportunities for more interdisciplinary training, often in informatics, computation, or engineering, than a typical science degree; hands-on experiential learning through internships and team projects; professional skills and experience in communication, teamwork, project management, business administration, … and strong links with employers.” Such programs “can and do attract students who want to work in nonacademic sectors, interdisciplinary careers, team-oriented environments, managerial or other professional level positions,….[and] appeal to students who …. seek career advancement, look to gain a competitive edge, or want to refine professional and technical skills in order to reenter the workforce.”
In fact most of the characteristics the report describes are already present in Cornell Master of Engineering programs such as the ORIE M.Eng. (which are open to graduates in math and science as well as other branches of engineering). Indeed, the ORIE M.Eng. could serve as a template for the PSM programs recommended by the Council. The report even recommends that PSM programs in the natural sciences be established with “the appointment of a coordinator or director of the program” since, unlike undergraduate and Ph.D. programs that are mostly run by admissions offices and advisors, “PSM programs need a dedicated individual,” a position that the ORIE M.Eng. program already has.
|Professor Ronald Ehrenberg
Ronald Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics at Cornell and Director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI), chaired the National Research Council Board on Higher Education, one of the boards that participated in the study. He observed that "Cornell has been a leader in developing the type of professional science masters programs that the NRC report discusses. Outstanding examples are the ORIE MEng program and the masters of professional studies in statistics program. These programs provide a supply of important highly skilled workers and also generate revenue for the university. They are likely to be increasingly important to universities in the years ahead."
The report cites salary and placement data for existing PSM programs as evidence of “strong and growing current demand” for master’s level science professionals, noting that there is a significant salary differential versus bachelor level employment. The report observes that the American Society of Civil Engineering “has now determined that the traditional baccalaureate is insufficient preparation for professional civil engineering work,” adding that for engineering in general, a strong curriculum “may mean that the first professional degree will need to be the master’s rather than the baccalaureate.”
The National Research Council report contrasts the proposed PSM programs with classical master’s programs in the sciences, noting opportunities for PSM graduates in financial and industrial mathematics, biotechnology, service corporations, and government. In addition to those employing graduates in financial mathematics, among the particular employment areas singled out in the report are “business intelligence” and “service science, management, and engineering.”
Business intelligence is defined in the report as “the application of systems thinking, data mining, pattern recognition, mathematical modeling, statistics, computing and simulation to solve challenging business problems,” which is precisely the domain ORIE’s new Data Analytics Concentration (fomerly Data Mining and Analytical Marketing).
As for service science, management and engineering, the report incorporates material adapted from an IBM report recognizing the shift of economies towards services and a resulting skills gap that entails “bringing together ongoing work in computer science, operations research, industrial engineering, business strategy, management sciences, social and cognitive sciences and legal sciences to develop the skills required in a services-led economy.” Courses and projects in ORIE’s Master of Engineering program address many topics related to this new business segment.
As described in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the report is the work of a committee convened by the National Research Council to “analyze the motivations and characteristics of students who earn master’s degrees in the sciences as a terminal degree, to examine whether graduate-level education programs are meeting the needs of employers in scientific industries, and to look at what master’s education programs could learn from graduate-level professional programs in business, public policy, health, and engineering.”
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