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Degrees and their purpose

There are three levels of academic degrees that you can obtain.


The value of a bachelor’s degree is to communicate to people your ability to learn fundamental concepts through your coursework. At least in engineering, employers are expecting to have to train you on standard operating procedures and techniques they use. What your degree tells them is that you have a sufficient capacity to learn the material they need. For example, imagine trying to teach someone calculus if they have not been exposed to algebra. Technically, you can start to learn calculus without having formal training in algebra; however, you would end up learning algebra along the way and it would take you longer.


I do not have much experience here, so take everything with an extra dose of skepticism. My perspective is this degree is more of an extended Bachelor’s. You gain additional foundational knowledge in a field of your choice—allowing you to switch fields. Research during a Master’s degree is very helpful and important, but it is challenging to make substantial strides in only two years. This means that employers should have to spend less time training you.


I only have a PhD, so this is biased more towards research. Based on my experience, the main outcomes of a PhD are further knowledge in a specific domain/field and, most importantly, a “license to think”. What I mean by “license to think” is the skill of formulating questions. Almost all of your education before this point is focused on learning skills to answer questions. A (successful) PhD is where you develop the ability to identify what questions you need to answer. Employers then hire you to develop solutions when they give you a company objective.

One thing to consider strongly is that you have to pay a sizeable tuition for a Master’s program. With a PhD, you have a full tuition scholarship and a salary (called a stipend). You are not paid much, and it is longer than a Master’s, but if you have to take out student loans, then this could be a big factor.

For an MD or DO, my impression from my friends is that medical school is a firehose of knowledge. A massive amount of information about many fields of medicine is thrown at you. Your task is to retain as much information as possible and prove what you know on exams, which determines what specialties you are competitive for. Its purpose is to prepare you with knowledge and experience to practice medicine.