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Master's vs PhD | A Complete Guide to the Differences

Published on November 27, 2020 by Lauren Thomas . Revised on June 1, 2023.

The two most common types of graduate degrees are master’s and doctoral degrees:

  • A master’s is a 1–2 year degree that can prepare you for a multitude of careers.
  • A PhD, or doctoral degree, takes 3–7 years to complete (depending on the country) and prepares you for a career in academic research.

A master’s is also the necessary first step to a PhD. In the US, the master’s is built into PhD programs, while in most other countries, a separate master’s degree is required before applying for PhDs.

Master’s are far more common than PhDs. In the US, 24 million people have master’s or professional degrees, whereas only 4.5 million have doctorates.

Table of contents

Master’s vs phd at a glance, which is right for you, length of time required, career prospects, costs and salaries, application process, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about master's and phd degrees.

The table below shows the key differences between the two.

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A PhD is right for you if:

  • Your goal is to become a professor at a university or some other type of professional researcher.
  • You love research and are passionate about discovering the answer to a particular question.
  • You are willing to spend years pursuing your research even if you have to put up with a lot of dead ends and roadblocks.

A master’s degree is the better choice if any of the following apply:

  • You want to continue studies in your field, but you’re not committed to a career as a professional researcher.
  • You want to develop professional skills for a specific career.
  • You are willing to pay a higher upfront cost if it means finishing with your degree (and thus being able to work) much faster.
  • You want the option to study part-time while working.

The length of time required to complete a PhD or master’s degree varies. Unsurprisingly, PhDs take much longer, usually between 3–7 years. Master’s degrees are usually only 1–2 years.

Length of a master’s

Master’s degrees are usually 2 years, although 1-year master’s degrees also exist, mainly in the UK.

Most of the degree consists of classes and coursework, although many master’s programs include an intensive, semester-long master’s thesis or capstone project in which students bring together all they’ve learned to produce an original piece of work.

Length of a PhD

In the US, a PhD usually takes between 5 and 7 years to complete. The first 2 years are spent on coursework. Students, even those who choose to leave without finishing the program, usually receive a master’s degree at this point.

The next 3–5 years are spent preparing a dissertation —a lengthy piece of writing based on independent research, which aims to make a significant original contribution to one’s field.

Master’s degrees tend to prepare you for a career outside of academia, while PhDs are designed to lead to a career in research.

Careers for master’s graduates

There are two types of master’s degrees: terminal and research-intensive. The career prospects are different for each.

Terminal master’s degrees are intended to prepare students for careers outside of academia. Some degrees, known as professional degrees, specifically prepare students for particular professions; these include the Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees.

Other master’s degrees, usually Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Sciences (MS or MSc) degrees, do not necessarily lead to a specific career, but are intended to be a final degree. Examples include an MS in Communications or MS in Data Analytics.

In research-intensive master’s programs, students take coursework intended to prepare them for writing an original piece of research known as the master’s thesis . Such programs are usually intended to prepare for further study in a doctoral program.

Careers for PhD graduates

As research degrees, PhDs are usually intended to lead to an academic career. A PhD can be thought of like an apprenticeship, where students learn from professional researchers (academics) how to produce their own research.

Most students aspire to become a university professor upon the completion of their degree. However, careers in academia are highly competitive, and the skills learned in a doctoral program often lend themselves well to other types of careers.

Some graduates who find they prefer teaching to producing research go on to be teachers at liberal arts colleges or even secondary schools. Others work in research-intensive careers in the government, private sector, or at think tanks.

Below are a few examples of specific fields and non-academic careers that are common destinations of graduates of those fields.

  • Computer Science
  • Lab Sciences

Many government jobs, including economists at a country’s central bank, are research-intensive and require a PhD. Think tanks also hire economists to carry out independent research.

In the private sector, economic consulting and technology firms frequently hire PhDs to solve real-world problems that require complex mathematical modeling.

Graduate students from the humanities are sometimes hired by museums, who can make use of their research and writing skills to curate exhibits and run public outreach.

Humanities PhDs are often well-suited to research and grant-writing roles at nonprofits. Since so much of research is funded by grants, PhD students often gain a lot of experience applying for them, which is a useful skill in the nonprofit sector.

There are a wide range of non-academic research jobs for lab scientists with doctorates in subjects like chemistry, biology, ecology and physics.

Many PhD graduates are hired by pharmaceutical companies that need to perform research to create and test their products. Government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also hire lab scientists to work on research projects.

Job prospects after graduation vary widely based on the field. In fields like management, computer science, statistics, and economics, there’s little underemployment—even graduates from less well-known programs can easily find jobs that pay well and use the skills they’ve gained from the PhD.

However, in other fields, particularly in the humanities, many PhD graduates have difficulty in the job market. Unfortunately, there are far more PhD graduates than assistant professor roles, so many instead take on part-time and low-paid roles as adjunct instructors. Even non-academic careers can sometimes be difficult for PhDs to move into, as they may be seen as “overqualified”  or as lacking in relevant professional experience.

Because career options post-PhD vary so much, you should take the time to figure out what the career prospects are in your field. Doctoral programs often have detailed “placement” records online in which they list the career outcomes of their graduates immediately upon leaving the program. If you can’t find these records, contact the program and ask for them—placement information should play an important role in your choice of PhD program.

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Although PhDs take far longer to complete, students often receive a living stipend in exchange for being a teaching or research assistant. Master’s degrees are shorter but less likely to be funded.

Both master’s degrees and PhDs lead to increased salaries upon graduation. While PhDs usually earn a bit more than those with a master’s degree, in some fields, the wages are identical, meaning that no financial benefit is gained from going on to a PhD.

Cost of a master’s

The upfront cost of a master’s degree is usually higher than a doctoral degree due to the lower amount of financial aid available. However, increased salaries also arrive faster than with a doctoral degree, because people graduate much earlier from a master’s program.

Some master’s students do receive stipends for their degrees, usually as compensation for being a teaching or research assistant. In addition, many people complete master’s degrees part time while working full-time, which allows them to fund their living costs as well as tuition.

The cost varies significantly by school and program. Public schools are usually cheaper than private ones. Some master’s degrees, such as MBAs, are notoriously expensive, but also result in much higher wages afterwards that make up for the high cost.

The master’s wage premium , or the extra amount that someone with a master’s degree makes than someone with just a high school diploma, is 23% on average. Many universities provide detailed statistics on the career and salary outcomes of their students. If they do not have this online, you should feel free to contact an administrator of the program and ask.

Cost of a PhD

PhDs, particularly outside the humanities, are usually (though not always) funded, meaning that tuition fees are fully waived and students receive a small living stipend. During the last 3–5 years of a PhD, after finishing their coursework (and sometimes before), students are usually expected to work as graduate instructors or research assistants in exchange for the stipend.

Sometimes students can apply for a fellowship (such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program in the United States) that relieves them of any obligations to be a teaching or research assistant. Doctoral programs in the US tend to be better funded than in the rest of the world.

Sometimes, PhD degrees can be completed part-time, but this is rare. Students are usually expected to devote at least 40 hours a week to their research and work as teaching or research assistants.

The main cost of doctoral programs comes in the form of opportunity cost—all the years that students could be working a regular, full-time job, which usually pays much better than a graduate school stipend.

The average wage premium for PhDs is 26%, which is not much higher than the master’s degree premium.

In the US, the application process is similar for master’s and PhD programs. Both will generally ask for:

  • At least one application essay, often called a personal statement or statement of purpose .
  • Letters of recommendation .
  • A resume or CV .
  • Transcripts.
  • Writing samples.

Applications for both types of programs also often require a standardized test. PhDs usually require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which tries to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative, critical thinking , and analytical writing skills. Many master’s programs require this test as well.

Applying for a master’s

Master’s degrees programs will often ask you to respond to specific essay prompts that may ask you to reflect upon not just your academic background, but also your personal character and future career ambitions.

Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School requires Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) applicants write two essays, one about a recent time they demonstrated leadership and the second about their personal values.

Who you should ask for your letters of recommendation varies by program. If you are applying to a research-intensive master’s program, then you should choose former professors or research supervisors. For other programs, particularly business school, current work supervisors may be a better choice.

Some professional master’s programs require a specific test. For example, to apply to law school, you must take the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. For business school, you must take either the GRE or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).

Applying for a PhD

When applying for a PhD, your resume should focus more on your research background—you should especially emphasize any publications you’ve authored or presentations that you’ve given.

Similarly, your statement of purpose should discuss research that you’ve participated in, whether as an assistant or the lead author. You should detail what exactly you did in projects you’ve contributed to, whether that’s conducting a literature review, coding regressions, or writing an entire article.

Your letters of recommendations should be from former professors or supervisors who can speak to your abilities and potential as a researcher. A good rule of thumb is to avoid asking for recommendations from anyone who does not themselves have a PhD.

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A master’s is a 1- or 2-year graduate degree that can prepare you for a variety of careers.

All master’s involve graduate-level coursework. Some are research-intensive and intend to prepare students for further study in a PhD; these usually require their students to write a master’s thesis . Others focus on professional training for a specific career.

A PhD, which is short for philosophiae doctor (doctor of philosophy in Latin), is the highest university degree that can be obtained. In a PhD, students spend 3–5 years writing a dissertation , which aims to make a significant, original contribution to current knowledge.

A PhD is intended to prepare students for a career as a researcher, whether that be in academia, the public sector, or the private sector.

This depends on the country. In the United States, you can generally go directly to a PhD  with only a bachelor’s degree, as a master’s program is included as part of the doctoral program.

Elsewhere, you generally need to graduate from a research-intensive master’s degree before continuing to the PhD.

This varies by country. In the United States, PhDs usually take between 5–7 years: 2 years of coursework followed by 3–5 years of independent research work to produce a dissertation.

In the rest of the world, students normally have a master’s degree before beginning the PhD, so they proceed directly to the research stage and complete a PhD in 3–5 years.

A master’s degree usually has a higher upfront cost, but it also allows you to start earning a higher salary more quickly. The exact cost depends on the country and the school: private universities usually cost more than public ones, and European degrees usually cost less than North American ones. There are limited possibilities for financial aid.

PhDs often waive tuition fees and offer a living stipend in exchange for a teaching or research assistantship. However, they take many years to complete, during which time you earn very little.

In the US, the graduate school application process is similar whether you’re applying for a master’s or a PhD . Both require letters of recommendation , a statement of purpose or personal statement , a resume or CV , and transcripts. Programs in the US and Canada usually also require a certain type of standardized test—often the GRE.

Outside the US, PhD programs usually also require applicants to write a research proposal , because students are expected to begin dissertation research in the first year of their PhD.

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Learn Everything About the Masters Vs PhD Discussion

Masters Vs PhD

Many students are talking about the Masters vs Ph.D. debate. This discussion about graduate degrees has been going on for years, after all. Many undergrads want to get into a PhD program without completing the Master. Others say they don’t even need a PhD after their degree program to get a top salary. In any case, the Master’s degrees vs doctorate degree debate won’t be over anytime soon.

This write-up does not talk about the differences between a graduate degree and a postgraduate degree. However, it emphasizes everything you need to learn about the differences between a master’s degree and a doctorate degree. In this article, you would learn the most important and rudimentary differences between these postgraduate programs.

To make sure you understand the differences between the Master’s degrees and the Doctorate of Philosophy (NOT Psychology!) degree, we have compiled all the information you would ever need right here. So, let’s talk about the Master’s programs vs doctoral programs!

What is a Master’s Degree?

After most students complete their bachelor’s degree they don’t know whether to go for postgraduate studies or not. And those who decide to further their education don’t know if they should go for a direct PhD or master’s program. The issue here is often the confusion about whether to do master’s programs or doctoral programs. To this end, many people who talk about PhD vs Masters don’t really know what each degree is or how it is obtained. Many people take part in the Master vs PhD debate because they support just one of the two degrees. So, let’s start by explaining what Master’s degrees really are:

  • It is a postsecondary credential.
  • Getting it requires either 2 or 3 years of study, as well as a thesis or clinical experience.
  • There are many Master’s degrees one can get, including the Master of Science (MS), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA).
  • To get into a Master’s program, you need a Bachelor’s degree. In addition, some programs require you to have a Bachelor’s in a related field.
  • Most programs require a thesis. MFAs, however, usually just require writing projects. MSW programs require clinical practice and experience.

What Is PhD Degree?

The next step in our Masters or PhD discussion is to talk about the Doctorate degree. It is different from Master’s degrees, of course. It is also a lot more difficult to obtain, unfortunately.

Some individuals would rather choose to join a doctoral program after their masters program. The reason is simple, they want to experience a gradual progression of the level of difficulty of each program.

Here is everything you need to know about the PhD:

  • A PhD is a type of doctorate.
  • To get a degree, you need to do extensive research and fill a gap in knowledge.
  • Your contribution to your field needs to be significant.
  • To graduate, you need to write a dissertation proposal and defend it orally. Towards the end of the program, you will need to present and defend the dissertation (an academic paper that often spans hundreds of pages).
  • You don’t necessarily have to get a Master’s degree to advance to a PhD program. However, we think it is a good idea.
  • A PhD degree is much more difficult to obtain than a Master’s one because you need to use your own research to write the dissertation. Much of this research must be entirely original.

Do You Need a Masters to Get a PhD?

Do you need a Masters for a PhD? In many cases, if your academic results are excellent (in the top 1%), you don’t need a Master’s degree to qualify for a PhD program. This holds true in both the United States and the UK. However, it’s a bit more difficult to skip the Master in the United Kingdom. But should I get a Master’s before a PhD? This is the correct question to ask. Here are some of the advantages of going straight for the PhD:

  • Since Master’s programs and doctoral programs overlap in some areas, you will basically be doing a Master’s course while working on your PhD.
  • It saves you time because you don’t have to spend 2 or 3 more years on the Master’s program.
  • Many doctoral programs offer to fund to their students, which is not something you will get as part of a Master’s program.
  • You can get a Master’s degree while you advance on your PhD program. Sometimes, the Master’s degrees vs doctorate degree discussion doesn’t include this important piece of information.

The other side of the PhD or Masters debate will always tell you that there are also disadvantages. The most notable are:

  • If you withdraw from the PhD program, you will not get a diploma, not even a Master’s degree.
  • You don’t know if you can complete a PhD program because you haven’t tackled such a project (like you would have had if you’d have chosen to go through the Master’s program first).

Knowing the merits and demerits stated above, the ball is in your court, and the choice is yours to make. The most important thing is that you are making significant progress after leaving for graduate school.

The Difference Between Masters and PhD

Of course, there is a very big difference between doctoral programs and Master’s programs. Most master’s degrees require you to study for 2 or 3 years and write a thesis (based on research that has already been done), the PhD degree requires you to write a dissertation and come up with original research. You will have to bring a notable contribution to your field.

Also, a doctorate degree will enable you to teach your own course at a faculty. Master’s degree holders cannot do this.

PhD Vs Masters: Which Is Better?

By now, you may have decided to do a PhD after your Master’s. Or you may simply want to get enrolled in the doctoral program directly. No matter what you choose, you are surely interested to know which degree is better. Obviously, a doctorate degree is better. Here are just some of the reasons for this:

  • A doctorate degree will get you a much higher salary. You can expect to get 50% more money than people who only have Master’s degrees.
  • The PhD allows you to teach your own course at a faculty. You can’t do this with just a Master’s degree.
  • The PhD degree allows you to sign your name with “, PhD” at the end. This is extremely meaningful for your prospective employers or clients.
  • Finally, a doctorate degree is the highest format degree you can get, which demonstrates to the world that you are extremely experienced in your field.

So, if you can get a doctorate degree without a Master’s degree, and you truly believe that you can graduate from the program, it is a good idea to go straight for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. It will get you a lot of benefits. And besides, if you are a PhD degree holder, the Master’s degree becomes almost irrelevant.

This does not in any way relegate the relevance of a master’s program. For some individuals, their graduate school results aren’t enough to go for a doctorate program directly (by skipping a master’s degree). If you are this shoe, then you would do just fine with a master’s degree. Then after that, you can go for your doctoral degree. Regardless of your case, you are in charge, and the choice is entirely yours. So, whatever you choose, focus on the degree and do your best in it! Enjoy!

Are there any differences in PhD vs Masters salary?

Yes. Because the PhD is a terminal degree that shows a potential employer that you have achieved excellence in your field, it will help you get a much higher salary. And we’re talking about a big difference here. You can expect 50% more than what you would earn with just a master’s degree.

Do you really need a Masters before PhD?

In the United Kingdom, many institutions require students to have a Master’s degree to be eligible for a PhD program. In the United States, however, one can skip the Master’s degree and get admitted directly to a PhD program. In Canada, you could start a Master’s program and get fast-tracked to a PhD program without completing the Master’s.

Do you know of any PhD programs without Masters degree?

You don’t necessarily have to hold a Master’s degree to enroll in a PhD program. In the UK, however, many universities require a Master’s degree, as well as a Bachelors’s degree (at least 2:1). You should ask the faculty staff directly at the university to see their requirements.

Going from Masters to PhD, what is the best way to start?

The best way to start is to look at the university’s requirements for the doctorate program. The next thing you should do is find a topic and write a proposal. Keep in mind that the proposal will need to be defended orally to a commission.

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Master’s vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?

A young woman with her palms turned up

When you are at a college or university, you are likely pursuing the same goal as most other undergraduate students: an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree. However, what happens if you want to continue your formal education ? You generally have three options. You can pursue a Master’s, a PhD, or both! In today’s guide, we will discuss some of the most important differences between a Master’s and a PhD, as well as the paths required for each one.

Master’s vs. PhD: A Comprehensive Breakdown

What is a master’s degree.

In layman’s terms, a Master’s degree is the next step up from a Bachelor’s Degree. Once you enter a Master’s program, you are officially a “graduate” student (as opposed to an undergraduate). It can be helpful to think of a Master’s as a continuation of your undergraduate studies but with a greater focus on your field of interest. For example, you might get a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and then go on to get your Master’s in Early Childhood Psychology. Getting a Master’s essentially prepares you for a future career with more intensive coursework, greater emphasis on research, and the opportunity to do more fieldwork.

How Long Does a Master’s Take?

In the vast majority of cases, if you hold a Bachelor’s Degree and want to further your education, you can apply for a Master’s program. You can technically go directly from a Bachelor’s to a PhD, but this path is more complex and less common (more on that later!). If you are accepted into a Master’s program, you can expect to finish the program in roughly two years as a full-time student. There are certain Master’s programs that take less time to complete – for example, the J-Term from Columbia Business School which allows you to earn your MBA in 16 months.

Naturally, if you opt to take fewer classes per semester, it will take longer. For example, you may want to get a part-time job to help cover the costs of your Master’s, in which case it could take you anywhere between three and five years to finish your degree. Many universities offer part-time options specifically for students who plan to work while in school.

Master’s Degree Overview

  • Application Process : This varies from one program to another, but it is very similar to the application process for an undergraduate university program. You will need to choose your program, review the requirements, collect the necessary documents, and submit your application. Many schools will require a standardized test like the GRE or GMAT.
  • Length of Time : 1.5 to 2 years (full-time) or 3 to 5 years (part-time)
  • In-School Experience : If you majored in a certain subject in undergrad, you were likely required to take a number of courses on that specific topic. You can think of a Master’s degree somewhat similarly – where you’re spending a lot of time learning about going a field that you’re interested in. Master’s degree coursework generally entails a mix of different types of classes – lectures, research, and project-based courses. The workload is usually more intensive than undergraduate degrees and often requires a final project or thesis. But, remember, you’re likely getting a Master’s because you’re interested in the topic – so you should be interested in many of the classes you’re taking!
  • Career Prospects : As more people go to college, the requirements for jobs become more stringent. You can greatly expand your potential career opportunities and even improve salary negotiations by having a Master’s degree. However, whether or not you really need a Master’s depends on your field of study, as well as your educational and career aspirations.
  • Average Cost of a Master’s : $66,340 [ 1 ]
  • Average Annual Salary with a Master’s : $77,844 [ 2 ]

What is a PhD?

While PhD is short for “Doctor of Philosophy,” it does not mean that you have to get an advanced degree in philosophy. Essentially, a PhD is the highest educational achievement that encompasses nearly all fields of study. With a PhD, you are considered an expert in your field and capable of teaching others at the undergraduate or graduate level. The exact experience varies significantly based on your chosen field of study, but PhD programs are often far more intensive than Master’s programs, with much greater emphasis on research and a final doctoral dissertation.

How Long Does a PhD Take?

This is where things can get tricky. On its own, a PhD can take anywhere between four and six years to complete as a full-time student. However, this is just the PhD program. You can finish your undergraduate degree and apply directly for a PhD program, but you will need to have excellent qualifications to make it through the application process. Moreover, many PhD programs require you to have a Master’s in a relevant field to even apply. As a result, many people first get a Master’s degree (roughly 2 years) and then apply for a PhD program. Therefore, if you add on the length of time you will need to get your Master’s, it could take as long as 6 to 10 years to get your PhD.

PhD Overview

  • Application Process : The application process is often more competitive for PhD programs, as there are fewer slots and more stringent requirements. You will likely need to provide multiple letters of recommendation, personal statements, and examples of your past work.
  • Length of Time : 4 to 6 years (full-time) or 5 to 8 years (part-time)
  • Experience : A PhD is a very intensive and rigorous experience, and you can expect to put hundreds of hours into research and coursework. The majority of PhDs require a final dissertation – which is essentially original research and your contribution to your field of study. For example – someone getting their PhD in Chemistry might do research on molecular properties in certain environments (that’s a real PhD title! ). Typically, completing your dissertation means you present it for review to a board of advisors at your university, and may submit it to be published in academic journals.
  • Career Prospects : Many people debate how much your career prospects improve with a PhD. Oftentimes, people pursue a PhD if they wish to work in academia – teaching or conducting long-term research in their field of study. That said, some people do move out of academia after finishing their PhD. It can be helpful to look at alumni from programs you’re applying to – where do they end up after school? Do most of them work in academia, or move into another industry? This also varies by your focus – you could imagine a construction company might be more interested in hiring a PhD in Civil Engineering than a PhD in Medieval Literature.
  • Average Total Cost of a PhD : Many PhD programs are fully funded, meaning the student does not have to pay tuition and is paid by the university. [ 3 ]
  • Average Annual Salary with a PhD : $97,916 [ 3 ] Note – research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics indicates that the average PhD makes 25% more than someone with a Master’s degree.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether to pursue a Master’s, a PhD, or both. A Master’s takes less time, but it’s not comprehensive and may not yield as high a salary as a PhD. Alternatively, a PhD takes two to three times as long to complete, but it could help you advance your career even further, command a higher salary, and become a recognized expert in your field. So, while it’s a great idea to pursue higher education, just remember the pros and cons of Master’s vs. PhD programs when you are ready to apply – and ultimately make the decision that’s best for you, vs. what you feel is expected!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work . After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog . If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter , LinkedIn , or his personal website !

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Master’s vs PhD/Doctorate Degrees – Key Differences

dissertation masters vs phd

So, you are done with your bachelor’s degree but not with studying–according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , this seems like a good idea. In its projections for the years 2019–2029, it lists 36 occupations that typically require a master’s degree and 63 requiring a doctoral or professional degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data also shows that the wages for these occupations are higher than the median for all occupations. 

Now you might wonder: What is the difference between master’s and PhD degrees and which one should I get? Read on for all the information you need to make this important decision!

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Difference Between Masters and PhD: An Overview

A master’s degree is designed to teach you the knowledge and skills that you will need in your future profession. A PhD or doctorate degree, on the other hand, is designed to develop your critical thinking as well as your analytical and writing skills and is usually a years-long commitment to independent research on a specific subject. The purpose of a PhD is to prepare you for a career in academic research—although it can also help you get into a variety of other professions, and at a higher entry/salary level. In the US, a master’s degree is integrated into a PhD program, as a necessary preparation period involving mostly coursework, while in most other countries, a separate master’s degree is required to enter a PhD program.

If you want to stand out, you should definitely opt for a PhD degree: According to the United States Census Bureau , 24 million people in the US had master’s or professional degrees in 2019, whereas only 4.5 million had PhDs/doctorates. But is it worth the extra effort? And what exactly would the extra effort be? Have a look at the table below to get an idea about the key differences between master’s and PhDs.

Master’s vs PhD

Master’s or doctorate: which should you choose, how long does a master’s vs doctorate take to complete.

While the length of time it will take you to complete a PhD or master’s degree varies significantly between institutions and countries, we will focus on the US system here. Obviously, PhDs take much longer, because they are in fact a combination of both degrees and involve a long period of independent research that can get even longer than expected, depending on your topic, the available equipment or support, and a lot of other factors.

How long to complete a master’s degree

In the US, a full-time master’s degree takes students generally 2 years to complete, while part-time degrees are usually double the time.

How long to complete a PhD/doctorate

Since US PhD programs only require a completed bachelor’s degree, they start with an integrated master’s of 2 years of coursework, followed by 3–4 years of independent research into a specific topic. That usually includes publishing results, presenting at conferences, and preparing the final dissertation. Note that stipends/funding do not always cover the entire time it can take you to complete your PhD project—make sure you are aware of alternative options and additional funding at your institution or have at least thought about a backup plan before you start.

Master’s Degree Cost vs. a PhD Cost

Most people assume that PhDs are more expensive because they take many more years to complete. However, since PhD students usually receive scholarships or stipends, sometimes just for their commitment to full-time research and sometimes in exchange for teaching, the direct costs for a dissertation can be lower than those for a master’s degree. 

Additionally, while you are very likely to earn more with both degrees, the additional years of studying for a PhD should be factored into any estimation of costs vs outcomes.

Cost of a master’s degree

Master’s degrees at US universities can cost anything from $30,000 to $120,000, with tuition depending on the type of institution (public, private nonprofit, or for-profit). University rankings and general reputation also affect tuition costs. 

Whether an expensive degree (e.g., MBAs are often notoriously expensive) is worth the money for you personally depends on what kind of salary you think you can expect after graduating from that specific school. The universities you consider applying to should be able to provide you with data on the career and salary outcomes of their students, either on their website or if you contact them and ask for these details.

You can of course try to get a stipend and/or apply for a teaching or research assistant position at your school, depending on your undergraduate degree and experience. Moreover, many institutions offer the possibility to complete a master’s degree part-time, while working, which allows students to fund themselves.

You might also be eligible to transfer credits toward your degree if you have a professional certification or have earned graduate-level course credit—which can significantly reduce your total cost for both degrees.

Cost of a PhD/dissertation

PhDs, unlike master’s degrees, are usually funded, which means that tuition fees are waived and stipends or scholarships take care of living costs. Phd students are, however, often expected to take on teaching or research responsibilities in exchange for their funding. 

There are a variety of scholarships you can apply for if you want to pursue a PhD in the US as an international student—US-based ones like the Fulbright Foreign Student Program or the HHMI International Student Research Scholarships , but there are probably also funding opportunities in your home country for students who want to embark on a PhD abroad.

Pursuing a PhD degree part-time might sometimes be possible, but since students are expected to invest a full workweek into their research and potential teaching responsibilities, this is usually not realistic.

To estimate the overall cost of a doctoral program, the extra years that you could be working a full-time job with a regular salary also need to be factored into the equation—and take into account that projects may end up taking longer than expected, due to difficulties in collecting data, supervisors dropping out or moving on, or unforeseeable crises such as the COVID-19 epidemic.

Career Prospects for a Master’s vs PhD

While both a master’s and a PhD degree will qualify you for a variety of occupations that require higher degrees, they can also get you a higher salary in a profession that is also open to employees with a lower education level. PhD holders can in theory expect the highest wages, but since the two degrees prepare you for very different careers, that alone shouldn’t be what you base your decision on.

Master’s degree jobs and positions

Master’s degrees are overall more versatile than PhDs when it comes to employment opportunities and cover a wide range of fields and professions. The most common master’s degrees are the Master’s of Arts (MA) and the Master’s of Science (MS). 

Master’s programs can generally be divided into three different types:

Research master’s degrees, such as an MA in Comparative Literature or an MS in Biology, prepare students for academic and non-academic research disciplines and usually end with a thesis based on an original piece of research. In some fields, however, you are expected to enter a Ph.D. program after completing your master’s to be competitive when it comes to finding a job later.

Professional master’s degrees teach you practical skills and in-demand competencies that qualify you for a specific field and enable you to understand issues that are relevant in a certain profession. Examples include the Master of Public Health (MPH), the  Master of Business Administration (MBA), or the MA in Teaching (MAT). 

Terminal master’s degrees are the highest academic degree in fields where doctorates are not offered, and prepare students for careers outside of academia. The Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, for example, or the MS in Library Science are as high as you can go in those fields.

To give you an idea, below, we listed the 10 occupations at the master’s level that are projected to have the most openings annually from 2019 to 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the highest-paying occupations for master’s degree holders without required work experience, based on projections from 2016 to 2026.

Master’s degrees, apart from helping you develop professional skills tailored to the requirements of the profession you intend to enter, can also serve as a stepping stone if you are already in employment and want to progress your career development, earn a higher salary, or change careers by learning new skills and subject knowledge.

PhD/doctorate jobs and positions

PhDs are usually intended to lead to an academic career, and many students aim to eventually become university professors. However, careers in academia are highly competitive, and there are not nearly as many professor positions as there are PhD holders. The good news is that the skills you learn during your doctoral program are often “transferable” and can be applied to other types of careers. 

Some PhD graduates end up (and enjoy) being colleague teachers, while others embark on non-academic research careers, for example at pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, consulting and technology firms, or think tanks. Job prospects vary widely across fields, with some—computer science, engineering, or economics—having very low unemployment rates, and others, for example the humanities, offering fewer and less desirable employment opportunities. Keep in mind, however, that someone with a PhD entering a different field or one that does not necessarily require a PhD may find that their degree sometimes does not help them or that they are even considered to be “overqualified” or as lacking practical skills and relevant professional experience.

Since there is no clear career path for PhD graduates, you should really take your time figuring out what field you want to work in later, what the career prospects for that field are, and if they are worth the time and effort you will have to invest to complete a PhD program. Your university should have data on the careers and salaries of their students, and should either display these details on their website or send you the relevant information if you contact them directly.

Master’s vs PhD: Application Process

The application process for master’s and PhD programs is overall very similar. In general, you will need to provide the following:

Frequently Asked Questions about Master’s vs PhD Degrees

How long does a master’s degree take vs a phd.

Full-time master’s degrees usually take 2 years to complete. Many universities offer the option to do a master’s part-time, which takes double the time. PhD programs in the US  start with an integrated master’s of 2 years of coursework (since you enter the program directly after completing your bachelor’s degree), followed by 3–4 years of independent research. 

Is a PhD harder than a master’s degree?

A PhD takes substantially longer and requires more self-motivation, organizational skills, and the willingness to carry on even when things do not go according to plan. You might also have other responsibilities, on top of your research, such as teaching or assisting your supervisor. But whether that is “harder” for you than a master’s degree that consists of mostly coursework and does not take more than 2 years depends on your interests and general working style. 

Is a master’s or doctorate better?

Master’s and doctorate degrees prepare you for different occupations and work positions, and which one is the right for you depends on what kind of career you are planning to pursue. Generally, a master’s degree is right for you if you want to deepen your career-oriented knowledge and skills for a specific profession, while a doctorate degree prepares you for a career in research, whether that is inside or outside a university.

Preparing Your Graduate School Essays

Now that you have figured out whether a master’s or PhD degree is the right choice for you, all that is left to do is to put your application together! Make sure that you focus on your chosen degree and its aim (research or a professional career) in all required documents—for example, highlight your professional and personal development in your CV for an MBA program, but the publication you got out of your bachelor’s thesis and how passionate you are about doing more research on the same topic for your application to a PhD program. 

As always, Wordvice can help with our professional Personal Statement Editing Services or Admission Editing Services , which help ensure that your application is error-free and showcases your full potential so that you get admitted to the graduate or doctoral program of your choice. For more academic resources on writing the statement of purpose for grad school or on how to request a letter of recommendation , head over to our Admissions Resources pages.

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Masters vs PhD – What’s the best degree for me?

by Sven Hendrix

Master’s vs PhD – what’s the best degree for me?

In the US, a Master’s degree is not required for a PhD – unlike most European countries, where it is a prerequisite. Thus, in the US, deciding between a Master’s degree and a PhD can be a challenging question. By understanding the distinction, you can determine which program aligns best with your aspirations and goals. This article will provide insights into the structure, requirements, and outcomes of both degrees, helping you make an informed decision.

  • Master’s vs PhD degree – which is better for my career?

What is the Difference Between a Master’s and PhD?

How long does it take to complete a master’s or a doctorate, is a master’s degree a prerequisite for a phd or doctoral degree, is a separate master’s degree worth the effort, what’s the focus of master’s vs phd: coursework vs research, advantages of a research master’s degree, is a phd the highest academic degree.

  • Career Prospects After a Master’s vs PhD Degree

Will a PhD help me earn a higher salary?

Which graduate degree program is more expensive master’s vs phd, scope and depth: masters degree thesis vs phd dissertation, is a career in academia the only path for phd graduates, factors to consider before applying for a master’s degree or a phd, frequently asked questions (faq).

  • Acknowledgments & Disclaimer

Recommended reading

Master’s vs phd degree – which is better for my career.

students reflecting on Master's vs PhD degree – which is better for my career

©sven hendrix/midjourney

If you’re a recent graduate student looking to further your academic career, a Master’s degree might be the first step. But for those aiming for a career as university professors or to lead their own research group, pursuing a doctoral program to get a higher degree could be the better option.

Choosing the right degree program requires understanding the main difference of Master’s vs PhD.

The most important difference between Masters and phd programs is the focus and the duration.

A Master’s degree is designed as an advanced study in a specific field following a bachelor’s degree. It typically involves structured coursework, sometimes combined with research, resulting in a thesis or project.

A PhD, commonly known as a doctorate, is a research-focused degree regarded as the highest academic degree in higher education. This doctorate degree usually requires a dissertation based on original research.

This table that summarizes the key differences when considering Master’s vs PhD degrees:

A Master’s program typically takes one to three years to complete, depending on the type of degree and the field of study. On the other hand, a PhD program can take anywhere from four to eight years , with the exact duration varying based on goals of the PhD candidates, the subject, the doctoral program’s requirements, and the time taken to complete the PhD dissertation.

Master Students preparing a doctoral degree

In the United States, a Master’s degree is *not* required for a PhD. In contrast, in most European countries, a Master’s degree is a requirement for a PhD.

In the US , many PhD programs accept applicants with only a Bachelor’s degree. This is because PhD programs in the US typically include a Master’s component in the first few years. Students take coursework, complete research rotations, and pass qualifying exams before advancing to the dissertation phase.

In Europe , PhD programs are typically shorter, lasting 3-4 years. As a result, students are expected to have a stronger foundation in research before starting their doctoral studies. A Master’s degree allows students to develop their research skills, learn about their field of interest, and explore different research topics.

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between PhD requirements in the US and Europe:

However, there are some exceptions to the general rule that a Master’s degree is required for a PhD in Europe. For example, in some countries, students with a four-year Bachelor’s degree may be able to apply directly to a PhD program. Additionally, some European universities offer joint Master’s-PhD programs that allow students to earn both degrees in a shorter period. However, these are structured to streamline the educational process and are often very competitive.

In the US, a Master’s is not a prerequisite for a PhD because PhD programs typically include a Master’s component in the first few years. Thus, a separate Master’s degree is probably not necessary in the US. Most common Master’s degrees cater to professional fields, and a typical Master’s degree program is often designed to be a terminal degree .

In contrast, in most European countries, the discussion about a separate Master’s degree does not make sense because a Master’s program is required to reach the qualification for the PhD level.

PhD Students working on a research project

A Master’s degree involves structured coursework which allows students to deepen their understanding of a particular subject . Some Master’s programs may also have a research component leading to a thesis.

In contrast, a PhD is primarily research-focused . While there might be some coursework in the initial years of study, the main focus is on independent research, leading to the creation of new knowledge.

Graduate programs in related fields like social work or clinical psychology may offer specialized Master’s degrees , such as the Master of Social Work (MSW) or Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology, designed to build academic and professional skills.

If you’re wondering whether to take the next step towards a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Juris Doctor (JD), which are considered professional degrees rather than research degrees , assess the degree level that aligns with your professional goals.

For graduate students who have set their sights on becoming doctoral students, PhD programs offer a deep dive into postgraduate study. However, degree requirements for graduate school can be pretty rigorous, especially for a specialized Ph.D. program.

The life of a PhD student is marked by hard work and a deep commitment to contributing original knowledge to their field. Typically, Ph.D. candidates spend their academic year fully immersed in research projects, including anything from scientific research in clinical psychology to molecular biology.

Opting for a research Master’s degree, such as a Master of Science, allows for a combination of coursework and a research project, often culminating in a thesis.

This path can provide rigorous training programs in research methodology and data analysis, valuable for those considering eventual doctoral degree pursuits.

Additionally, for those questioning if a doctoral degree is a good investment of time and resources, a Master’s program may be a sensible interim step to gain further work experience and professional development.

Students celebrating PhD degree

Yes, a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is often regarded as the highest academic degree in many fields.

However, it is helpful to note that a PhD is not universally the highest degree in all fields . For example, in professional fields like law and medicine, the Juris Doctor (JD) and the Doctor of Medicine (MD) are terminal degrees for professional practice but differ from a PhD.

Additionally, other degrees represent the highest level of professional achievement in their respective fields, such as the Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), or Doctor of Engineering (EngD) .

In some cases, there are also specialized degrees that go beyond the PhD in certain fields. For example, the Doctor of Science (ScD) or Doctor of Letters (DLitt) may be considered higher or at least on par with the PhD, depending on the institution and country. These are often awarded for a substantial body of academic research and publication.

Career Prospects After a Master’s vs PhD degree

It is important to consider how each degree can also shape your career in science. A Master’s degree can open up opportunities for higher salaries and specialized job roles that might require a deep understanding of a particular area. You also start earning earlier compared to a PhD candidate. For example, with a Master of Public Health, you might immediately enter the workforce in your specific domain.

A PhD prepares individuals better for a research career in academia or industry. However, many PhD graduates also pursue roles in consultancy or policy-making. Someone with a PhD entering a different field may find that their degree gives them an edge in research and analytical skills.

It is crucial to assess the career and salary outcomes of the respective degrees to determine which is the most suitable for you.

PhD graduation hat representing higher salary with a PhD degree

Generally, individuals with a PhD tend to earn higher salaries than those with just a Master’s degree. The advanced knowledge, specialized skills, and research experience gained during a PhD program make individuals more valuable in the job market, leading to better job prospects and higher earning potential.

The cost of pursuing either a Master’s or doctorate degree is a significant factor. While a Master’s degree can also be costly, PhD programs often come with more opportunities for financial aid such as fellowships or teaching assistantships, which can significantly reduce your total cost.

Prospective students must research and compare the salary outcomes and potential debt of Master’s and doctorate degrees.

When considering graduate programs, financial aid is a significant factor. While the costs of a Master’s program can vary, many students take out student loans.

The cost of a Master’s degree can be offset by working as a research assistant, which helps financially and enhances practical skills and subject knowledge essential for a successful professional career in science. Similarly, doctoral programs often offer substantial financial support, such as stipends.

The availability and extent of financial support can greatly vary depending on the field of study, institution, and country. Not all doctoral programs offer substantial financial support, and some students may still need to rely on loans or personal funding. However, there are many free or fully funded PhD programs .

The cost of tuition varies widely between institutions and countries. The duration of the programs can also affect the overall cost. Typically, a Master’s program is shorter in duration than a PhD, which might imply that even if the annual costs are higher for a Master’s, the total cost could be less due to the shorter time frame.

Finally, you must consider the indirect costs of graduate education, such as living expenses, which can vary widely and impact the overall costs and duration of pursuing a graduate degree.

While both a thesis (usually associated with a Masters degree) and a dissertation (associated with a PhD) involve research, the depth and scope differ. A Master’s thesis focuses on a particular topic, offering a new perspective or a deeper understanding. In contrast, a PhD dissertation involves extensive research to create new knowledge or theory in the chosen field.

No. While many with a PhD degree pursue roles in academia, others venture into the corporate world, non-profit sectors, and governmental roles. Industries that require specialized knowledge or research skills often value PhD graduates.

It’s worth noting that some sectors that do not require a PhD may find the expertise of someone with a doctorate advantageous.

When deciding between a Master’s vs PhD, consider the following:

Your scientific career goals : Do you see yourself in academia or research?

Duration of study : Are you ready to commit several years to a doctorate?

Financial aspects : Can you support the cost of tuition or are there scholarships available?

Passion for research : A PhD will require intense, focused research. 

  • Master’s degrees are typically coursework-focused with some research, while PhDs emphasize extensive research.
  • PhDs generally take longer to complete than Master’s degrees.
  • Career opportunities vary, with PhDs preparing individuals mainly for roles in academia and research, though other industries also value doctorate holders.
  • Financial considerations are vital, with PhD programs often providing more financial support than Master’s programs.
  • A passion for research and commitment to the subject are crucial for those considering a PhD.

Deciding whether to complete a PhD or Master’s degree varies greatly depending on personal career goals and academic interests. For a lot of people, graduate studies at the Master’s level provide sufficient qualifications for their intended career paths. However, if you aim to immerse yourself in academia or high-level research, a PhD is likely the better choice.

Which degree is right for me, a Master’s or a PhD?

Choosing between a Master’s degree and a PhD depends on your scientific career goals and personal aspirations. When considering an advanced degree, it’s essential to contemplate the significant differences between a Master’s degree and a PhD.

A Master’s program typically offers a structured path, often leading to a thesis-driven Master’s degree, which may be the best fit for students seeking to enhance their skills in a specialized area without the commitment to the long haul of a PhD study.

A PhD may be a better fit if you are interested in pursuing a research-oriented career or becoming a subject matter expert in a specific field. However, if you want to gain specialized knowledge and skills in a particular profession or industry, a Master’s degree could be the best choice.

What are the benefits of getting a PhD vs Master’s?

Earning a PhD offers several advantages. It allows you to become an expert in a particular area of study and opens up opportunities for advanced research and teaching positions. A PhD also enhances your critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Additionally, individuals with a PhD generally earn higher salaries than those with a Master’s degree.

How long does it take to complete a Master’s vs PhD?

The duration of a Master’s or PhD program varies depending on the field of study, research topic, and individual circumstances. On average, it takes around 1-3 years to complete a Master’s, while it takes around 4-7 years to complete a PhD, including the time spent on coursework, research, and dissertation writing. Several key factors influence the duration of a doctorate .

Can I apply for a PhD program with just a bachelor’s degree?

Typically, most European PhD programs require applicants to have a Master’s degree or its equivalent, while US universities accept candidates with only a bachelor’s degree because their PhD programs contain a Master’s component.

Can I switch from a Master’s program to a PhD program?

Yes, it is possible to transition from a Master’s program to a PhD program. Many universities offer an option to apply for a PhD program after completing a Master’s degree. However, admission is competitive, and you will need to meet the additional requirements set by the PhD program, such as research experience and a strong academic record.

Can I pursue a PhD in a different field than my Master’s degree?

Yes, pursuing a PhD in a different field is possible than your Master’s degree. However, switching fields may require additional coursework and research experience to bridge the knowledge gap. It’s essential to consider the specific requirements and expectations of the PhD program you are interested in.

What is the difference between Masters vs PhD projects?

In a Master’s program, the final project usually focuses on applying the knowledge gained during the program and demonstrating Mastery of the subject. In a PhD program, the emphasis is on conducting original research that contributes to the existing body of knowledge in the field. A PhD project typically involves a more comprehensive and in-depth study.

What are the career opportunities after completing a PhD?

Completing a PhD opens up a wide range of scientific career opportunities. Graduates with a PhD often pursue careers in academia as professors or researchers. They can also work in research and development roles in industries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and consulting firms. Additionally, a PhD can lead to leadership positions in various sectors and provide opportunities for entrepreneurship.


I have used AI systems, including Grammarly, Google Bard, and ChatGPT, to enhance the English and comprehensiveness of this article. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link. Thus, you support smartsciencecareer at no cost to you!

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Master’s Thesis Vs Ph.D. Thesis: What's the Difference?

dissertation masters vs phd

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Are you wondering what the difference is between a master's thesis and a Ph.D. thesis? A master's thesis is a research project required to obtain a master's degree, while a Ph.D. thesis is the final step to earning a doctoral degree.

A master's thesis is shorter and less in-depth than a Ph.D. thesis, and its primary goal is to show the student's ability to conduct independent research and contribute to their field of study. On the other hand, a Ph.D. thesis is a much more extensive and rigorous project; it's intended to make a significant contribution to the field of study.

In this article, we will dive deeper into these differences and explore what master's and Ph.D. theses are and how they differ. So, let's understand the key distinctions between a master's thesis and a Ph.D. thesis.

What is a Master’s Thesis?


A master's thesis is a research project that students complete as part of their postgraduate education. It typically involves a significant amount of independent work intended to demonstrate the ability of a student to conduct original research and contribute new knowledge to their field of study.

The format and specific requirements for a master's thesis can vary depending on the university and the program of study. However, it typically includes an introduction, literature review, methodology, data analysis, and conclusion sections.

Some students present their findings in a written document, while others may opt for a more creative format, such as an art installation or performance. The topic for the thesis is usually selected by the student and must have the approval of a thesis advisor or committee.

What is a Ph.D. Thesis?


A Ph.D. thesis is a research project that students complete as part of their doctoral studies. It's an opportunity for students to conduct original research, contribute new knowledge, and make a significant impact in their field of study. 

The process usually starts with choosing a topic and finding a supervisor who will guide the student throughout the research. The student will then spend several years conducting extensive research, gathering data, analyzing it, and drawing conclusions. The final product is a written document, usually around 100-300 pages long, summarizing the research and findings.

After completion, the thesis is evaluated by a committee of specialists in the field to assess the research's quality and significance. It is a rigorous and demanding process that requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Yet, it allows the student to become an expert in their field and make a meaningful contribution to the body of knowledge.

Differences between a Master's Thesis and a Ph.D. Thesis

So, you're probably wondering what the differences are between a master's and a Ph.D. thesis. They're both pretty big deals, but a few key differences are setting them apart. Here are seven of the main differences:

A master's thesis is usually shorter and less in-depth than a Ph.D. thesis. You're looking at around 50-100 pages for a master's thesis, while a Ph.D. thesis can be hundreds of pages long.


A master's thesis demonstrates a deep understanding of the field and the ability to conduct independent research. On the other hand, a Ph.D. thesis presents original and groundbreaking work that contributes to understanding a specific topic.

Completing a master's thesis is generally less intense than completing a Ph.D. thesis. Expectations and standards for a Ph.D. thesis are generally more rigorous and challenging than those of a master's thesis.

A master's thesis usually takes a year or two to complete, while a Ph.D. thesis takes an average of 3-5 years.

A master's thesis is usually reviewed and approved by a thesis advisor or a committee of faculty members. However, a Ph.D. thesis needs to be defended publicly before a panel of experts in the field.

Level of supervision

A master's thesis usually requires less supervision and guidance from the thesis advisor compared to a Ph.D. thesis, where the student is expected to take more initiative and be more independent in their research and writing.

Impact on career

A master's thesis is usually seen as a stepping stone to further education or a specific career path, whereas a Ph.D. thesis is considered an achievement that opens up many career opportunities, particularly in academia and research.

Overall, both the Master's and Ph.D. theses are significant milestones in a graduate student's academic journey, but the Ph.D. thesis is generally considered more challenging and demanding.

Comparison Chart: Master's Vs Ph.D. Thesis

It's important to note that these are general comparisons, and the specifics may vary depending on the university and program of study.


A master's thesis and a Ph.D. thesis have a lot in common. For one, they are both research projects that students complete as part of their postgraduate education. They both require students to conduct independent research, gather data, analyze it, and draw conclusions.

Both the master's and Ph.D. theses are written documents that summarize the research and findings, and both are evaluated by a committee of professors or experts in the field. Furthermore, the student chooses the topic and works with a supervisor or thesis advisor who guides them throughout the research process.

The main similarity is that both are opportunities for students to showcase their skills and knowledge in their field of study and make a meaningful contribution to the body of knowledge.

Can I use my master's thesis for my Ph.D.?

It depends on the specific requirements and expectations of a Ph.D. program. Some programs may allow you to use a previous master's thesis as part of your Ph.D. work, while others may require you to conduct new research and write a completely new thesis. It's best to check with the program directly to see what their specific requirements are.

How is a Ph.D. thesis different from a Master’s?

A Ph.D. thesis is more in-depth and extensive than a Master's. It involves original contributions to the field, whereas a Master's thesis builds upon existing knowledge. Additionally, a Ph.D. program typically takes longer to complete and includes coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation defense.

Do you need a master's thesis for your Ph.D.?

No, a master's thesis is not typically a requirement for a Ph.D. program. However, some Ph.D. programs may require a master's degree or equivalent before starting a Ph.D. program. And some Ph.D. programs may also require a research project or dissertation as part of the program, which is similar to a master's thesis. But overall, a master's thesis is not a requirement for a Ph.D. program.

How many pages is a Ph.D. thesis?

A Ph.D. thesis is usually a substantial piece of research work; therefore, it is expected to have a considerable number of pages, typically between 100 and 300. However, the exact number of pages can vary depending on the field of study, research topic, and university guidelines. It's best to consult your program or university for specific requirements.

How many pages is a master’s thesis?

A master's thesis typically ranges from 40-80 pages, but it can be longer or shorter depending on the field of study and the specific requirements of the university. The average length of a master's thesis is usually around 50-60 pages.

However, it is necessary to note that the length of a thesis does not necessarily reflect the quality of the research. It is best to check with your specific program or university for more information about the requirements for a master's thesis in terms of length.

In conclusion, Master's and Ph.D. theses are important academic documents demonstrating a student's research and writing skills. However, there are significant differences between the two types of theses, including the level of research required, the length of the document, and the intended audience. It is necessary for students to understand these differences and to work closely with their advisors to ensure a successful outcome.

  • Andy Stapleton (March 15, 2021). "Master's Thesis vs. Ph.D. Thesis.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRjdbm5mbU0&ab
  • Academic English Now (2020, November 16). "The Differences Between a Ph.D. and a Master's Thesis” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xENDDHOWhTw&ab
  • Wordvice (October 07, 2022). “Dissertation vs. thesis: key differences” https://blog.wordvice.com/dissertation-vs-thesis-key-differences/#:~:text=In%20short%2C%20a%20dissertation%20is,thesis%2C%20but%20not%20vice%20versa
  • Grand Canyon University (September 08, 2021). “Master's Thesis vs. Ph.D. Dissertation: Key Differences” https://www.gcu.edu/blog/doctoral-journey/thesis-vs-dissertation
  • Enago Academy (April 29, 2022). “Thesis vs. Dissertation: What's the Difference?” https://www.enago.com/academy/thesis-vs-dissertation/

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  • Dissertation vs Thesis: Your 2023 Guide

Chriselle Sy

If you’ve been thinking about going to graduate school, you may be familiar with the application requirements, rigorous academic schedule, and thesis or dissertation you’ll be expected to complete. So, what exactly is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation? While there are similarities, there’s a clear difference between the two. In our guide, we compare dissertation vs thesis. Discover more about both – and what you can expect during your graduate program. Let’s get started!

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is an academic paper or project that’s completed towards the end of a master’s degree program . It is typically completed as the capstone project , meaning it’s the final project required for a student to graduate.

Students need to select a narrow, specific topic within – or relating to – their field of study. Once they’ve selected a topic, students must conduct an in-depth review of existing research on their chosen subjects. The next step is to formulate an academic argument, an assertion they’ll need to support or prove with said research.

Therefore, a thesis is akin to an in-depth research paper. It’s comprised of research that essentially proves what a student has learned during their program.

What Is a Typical Thesis Structure?

A thesis generally follows a rigid structure that’s decided by the program, department, or university. Here is an example of a thesis structure:

  • The Title Page
  • Summary of Thesis Abstract
  • Table of Contents
  • Table of Maps and Figures
  • The Thesis Body (Sometimes divided into chapters)
  • The Results or Conclusion

Who Needs to Complete a Thesis?

Most master’s degree programs require students to complete a thesis. While some undergraduate programs may also require a thesis, these are generally shorter and narrower in scope.

Some programs will also require a master’s student to defend their thesis in front of a panel or committee.

What Is a Dissertation?

What is “the PhD paper” called? Some people refer to it as a PhD thesis, but it’s most commonly known as a dissertation in the US. Dissertations are the capstone project required at the tail end of a PhD program . It is almost always required, except for a select few one-year PhD programs .

Much like a thesis, dissertations are also academic papers that aim to prove a student’s expertise – while adding to the current body of knowledge – in their field. Thus, a student must look at existing research and conduct their own research .

dissertation masters vs phd

Basically, it’s the magnum opus of a doctoral journey in the United States. A dissertation isn’t just a long research paper; it’s a beast of a project. It demands extensive research, originality, and the ability to make a meaningful contribution to your chosen field. Think of it as a research odyssey guided by a seasoned mentor. Once you’ve conquered this scholarly quest and defended your findings, you’ll proudly emerge with your hard-earned doctoral degree, a testament to your dedication and scholarly prowess.

A dissertation typically comes after a PhD student completes their required courses and passes their qualifying exams. In some programs, the dissertation process is embedded into the coursework. In such cases, students receive a jump start on their work, allowing them to potentially finish their program earlier.

What Does a Dissertation Do?

PhD candidates must present a new theory or hypothesis. Alternatively, they must present their research to question (or disprove) the existing accepted theory on their chosen subject. Students may choose to tackle their topic from a new angle or take their research in a different direction.

Most programs will require students to defend their dissertations. During the defense, candidates must be able to justify the methodology of their research and the results and interpretation of their findings. Defenses are typically oral presentations in front of a dissertation committee , where the students are asked questions or presented with challenges.

Although the defense may seem daunting, PhD students work closely with their advisors to prepare for their dissertations. Students receive feedback and advice to guide their dissertations in their chosen direction.

What Is the Typical Dissertation Structure? 

Dissertations follow a rigid structure typically set by the program, department, or university. Here is an example format:

  • The Acknowledgments Page
  • The Abstract
  • Introduction
  • The Literature Review & Theoretical Framework
  • The Methodology
  • Findings/Results
  • Discussions of the Findings, including analysis, interpretation, and applications
  • The Conclusion
  • List of References
  • Any Appendices

What Is a Doctoral Thesis?

A doctoral thesis is a substantial piece of scholarly work that marks the pinnacle of a doctoral degree program, such as a PhD. Think of it as the academic grand finale. Its primary mission? To showcase the candidate’s mastery in their chosen field and their knack for delving deep into research.

dissertation masters vs phd

In a nutshell, a doctoral thesis is a mammoth project that calls for originality. You’ve got to dig, investigate, gather data, crunch numbers, and present real data-supported findings. All this hard work usually happens under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable mentor. Once you’ve conquered this scholarly mountain and defended your thesis successfully, you’ll be proudly awarded your well-deserved doctoral degree. It’s the hallmark of your expertise and contribution to your field.

And how does a doctoral thesis differ from a dissertation? That’s mainly a geographic explanation. While they’re largely similar in scope and purpose, when comparing a doctoral thesis vs. a dissertation:

  • A dissertation is the PhD capstone requirement in the US .
  • A doctoral thesis is the PhD capstone requirement in Europe .

Related Reading: The Easiest PhDs

Dissertation vs. Thesis: The Similarities

In the master’s thesis vs dissertation discussion, there are plenty of similarities. Both are lengthy academic papers that require intense research and original writing. They’re also capstone projects which are completed at the tail end of their respective programs.

Students must work closely with their respective committees (e.g., faculty members, advisors, professionals) who provide feedback and guidance on their research, writing, and academic arguments. Both thesis and dissertation committees have a committee chair with whom the students work closely.

In some ways, the requirements for theses and dissertations are quite similar. They require a skillful defense of a student’s academic arguments. What’s more, both papers require critical thinking and good analytical reasoning, as well as in-depth expertise in the chosen field of study.

Students must also invest a significant amount of time into both projects while also being able to accept and action feedback on their work.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: The Differences

What are the differences between a PhD dissertation vs. thesis? The first and most distinct difference is the degree program requiring a PhD dissertation or thesis. A dissertation is typically the capstone project for a doctorate, while a thesis is the capstone project for a master’s degree program (or undergraduate program).

Candidates will have to defend their dissertation during an oral presentation in front of their committee. Only some master’s theses require this.

During a thesis, students typically conduct research by reviewing existing literature and knowledge on their chosen subject. During a dissertation, students must do their own research and prove their theory, concept, or hypothesis. They should also expect to develop a unique concept and defend it based on the practical and theoretical results achieved from their rigorous research.

Theses are also typically shorter (around 40 to 80 pages). Dissertations, however, are much longer (between 100 and 300 pages). Of course, the actual length of the paper may depend on the topic, program, department, or university.

Related Reading : PhD Candidate vs Student: What’s the Difference? 

Dissertations and Theses: US vs. Europe

Whether you’re in the US or Europe, dissertations and theses are similar. However, European requirements and conventions differ slightly:

Doctoral Thesis

To ensure your PhD graduation, a dissertation is generally required. Doctoral theses in Europe are much like a PhD dissertation in the US : You must complete your own research and add to the existing body of knowledge in your field.

Master’s Dissertation

It may seem odd to require a dissertation for master’s degree programs, but in Europe, this is exactly what you’ll need. A master’s dissertation is a broader post-graduate program research project , though it’s most typically required for master’s programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few of the most common questions we hear about the meaning of thesis vs. dissertation.

Is a Thesis and a Dissertation the Same?

Yes and no. In some ways, a dissertation and a thesis are the same. For example, both require original writing, critical skills, analytical thinking, plenty of research, and lots of academic effort. However, a thesis is more commonly reserved for master’s – and some undergraduate – programs. Dissertations are generally required by PhD programs in the United States.

Additionally, a thesis typically calls for heavy research and compilation of existing knowledge and literature on a subject. A dissertation requires candidates to conduct their own research to prove their own theory, concept, or hypothesis – adding to the existing body of knowledge in their chosen field of study.

How Long Is a Thesis vs. a Dissertation?

One of the primary differences between thesis and dissertation papers is their length. While a thesis might be anywhere from 40 to 80 pages long, a dissertation can easily run from 100 to 300. It’s important to note that these numbers depend on the specific program and university.

Does a PhD Require a Thesis or a Dissertation?

It all depends on where you are! While a US-based PhD requires you to complete a dissertation, a thesis (or “doctoral thesis”) is more commonly required for PhD candidates in Europe. In the US, a thesis is more commonly reserved for master’s degree programs and occasionally undergraduate programs. In Europe, a “master’s dissertation” is typically required for the completion of a master’s degree.

So, there you have it: an in-depth comparison of the dissertation vs. thesis academic requirements. Now that you know the primary similarities and differences between the two, it might become easier to decide your academic path. Just remember, you may be able to find a master’s program without a thesis or a doctorate without a dissertation requirement if you prefer. Good luck!

Are you ready to jump into your doctorate? Find out if you need a master’s degree to get a PhD .

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Dissertation vs Thesis: The Differences that Matter


As a graduate student, you will have many different types of challenging coursework and assignments. However, the biggest project that you’ll work on when earning your master’s or doctoral degree will be your thesis or dissertation . The differences between a dissertation vs thesis are plenty. That’s because each of these pieces of writing happen at different times in one’s educational journey.

Let’s break down what a dissertation and thesis are so that you have a strong handle on what’s expected. For both a thesis and a dissertation, there is an obvious fluency and understanding of the subject one studies.

Let’s take a look at their similarities and differences.

Photo by  Glenn Carstens-Peters  on  Unsplash

What is a dissertation.

When you enter a doctoral program to earn a PhD, you will learn a lot about how to conduct your own research. At the culmination of your degree program, you’ll produce a dissertation.

A dissertation is a lengthy piece of written work that includes original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic. As the doctoral student, you get to choose what you want to explore and write about within your field of study.

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is also a scholarly piece of writing, but it is for those who are graduating from a master’s program. A thesis allows students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying.

Main Differences Between a Thesis vs. Dissertation

The biggest difference between a thesis and a dissertation is that a thesis is based on existing research.

On the other hand, a dissertation will more than likely require the doctoral student to conduct their own research and then perform analysis. The other big difference is that a thesis is for master’s students and the dissertation is for PhD students.

Structural Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation

Structurally, the two pieces of written analysis have many differences.

  • A thesis is at least 100 pages in length
  • A dissertation is 2-3x that in length
  • A thesis expands upon and analyzes existing research
  • A dissertation’s content is mostly attributed to the student as the author

Research Content and Oral Presentation

Once completed, some programs require students to orally present their thesis and dissertation to a panel of faculty members.

Typically, a dissertation oral presentation can take several hours. On the other hand, a thesis only takes about an hour to present and answer questions.

Let’s look at how the two scholarly works are similar and different:


  • Each is considered a final project and required to graduate
  • Both require immense understanding of the material
  • Written skills are key to complete both
  • Neither can be plagiarized
  • Both are used to defend an argument
  • Both require analytical skills
  • You will have to draft, rewrite, and edit both pieces of writing
  • For both, it is useful to have another person look over before submission
  • Both papers are given deadlines


  • A dissertation is longer than a thesis
  • A dissertation requires new research
  • A dissertation requires a hypothesis that is then proven
  • A thesis chooses a stance on an existing idea and defends it with analysis
  • A dissertation has a longer oral presentation component

The Differences in Context: Location Matters

The united states.

In the US, everything that was previously listed is how schools differentiate between a thesis and a dissertation. A thesis is performed by master’s students, and a dissertation is written by PhD candidates.

In Europe, the distinction between a thesis and dissertation becomes a little more cloudy. That’s because PhD programs may require a doctoral thesis to graduate. Then, as a part of a broader post-graduate research project, students may complete a dissertation.

Photo by  Russ Ward  on  Unsplash

The purpose behind written research.

Each piece of writing is an opportunity for a student to demonstrate his or her ability to think critically, express their opinions in writing, and present their findings in front of their department.

Graduate degrees take a lot of time, energy, and hard work to complete. When it comes to writing such lengthy and informative pieces, there is a lot of time management that is involved. The purpose of both a thesis and a dissertation are written proof that you understand and have mastered the subject matter of your degree.

Degree Types

A doctoral degree, or PhD, is the highest degree that one can earn. In most cases, students follow the following path to achieve this level of education: Earn a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and then a PhD. While not every job title requires this deep educational knowledge, the salaries that come along with each level of higher education increase accordingly.

Earning Your Degree

Whether you are currently a prospective student considering earning your higher education degree or a student enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program, you know the benefits of education.

However, for some, earning a traditional degree on-campus doesn’t make sense. This could be because of the financial challenges, familial obligations, accessibility, or any other number of reasons.

For students who are seeking their higher education degrees but need a flexible, affordable, and quality alternative to traditional college, take a look at the programs that the University of the People has to offer.

University of the People is an entirely online, US accredited and tuition-free institution dedicated to higher education. You can earn your Master’s in Business Administration or your Master’s in Education . Not to mention, there are a handful of associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs to choose from as well.

If you want to learn more, get in touch with us !

The Bottom Line

Regardless of where and when you earn your master’s or doctoral degree, you will likely have to complete a thesis or dissertation. The main difference between a thesis and dissertation is the level at which you complete them. A thesis is for a master’s degree, and a dissertation is for a doctoral degree.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of having to research and write so much. Your educational journey has prepared you with the right time management skills and writing skills to make this feat achievable!

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Thesis Vs. Dissertation — Know the difference and similarities!

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The academic world is filled with many different types of writing assignments, each with its own unique set of requirements and expectations. One common source of confusion for students is the distinction between a thesis and a dissertation. Both are long-form academic works, but there are several key differences between the two that are important to understand.

In Shakespeare’s day, a candidate for a master’s degree would write a thesis, an original paper in which he maintained a certain proposition. Whereas, completion of a doctoral program required submission and defense of a dissertation. He would read his thesis to his committee, after which he sat in silence while two faculty members gave point-by-point refutations of everything the candidate said.

The focus here was on the student’s ideas and his ability to arrange and express them clearly. If a student wished to advance further in academia he could pursue a dissertation. This was more of a  literature review . He would read widely in a particular area and write up his findings, discussing the various authorities and their opinions. The point was to demonstrate that he was well-versed in the literature of the field. While the confusion between the two terms is understandable, we shall tackle the dissertation vs. thesis topic in this article and provide unambiguous insights on it.

Table of Contents

What Is a Thesis?

A thesis is a critically written scholarly piece of research work. Typically, it is submitted by students graduating from a master’s program. The purpose of a thesis is to allow students to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying as part of the program.

What Is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is a comparatively lengthier piece of scholarly writing that accounts for your research work throughout the doctoral program. A researcher earns the Ph.D. after submitting and defending his/her dissertation. It includes all information about the original research or expanded research on a new or existing topic conducted by the Ph.D. candidate.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Differences

  • The primary difference between a thesis and a dissertation is the time when they are completed. As mentioned earlier, a thesis is presented at the culmination of a master’s program, whereas, a dissertation is presented to earn a Ph.D.
  • A thesis is a compilation of research ensuring that the researcher is well-informed and has knowledge about the research topic learned in the study program. On the other hand, a dissertation provides an opportunity for the researcher to contribute new theories and information to the existing literature in the research field.
  • A thesis is a presentation of learned and existing information, while the purpose of a dissertation is to develop a unique concept and defend it based on theoretical and practical results.
  • A master’s thesis is approximately 100 pages in length. However, a Ph.D. dissertation should be much longer than a thesis and must include background and research information. A dissertation must include your research proposal, grant proposal, literature review , ideation of research topic, and every other minute detail about your research. Ideally, a dissertation inclusive of all details mentioned above should be three times the length of a master’s thesis.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Similarities

  • Both a thesis and a dissertation are considered final projects and are required to graduate from respective programs.
  • The thesis and dissertation both require a deep and accurate understanding of the research problem.
  • Both forms of scholarly written pieces must address specific research questions.
  • Academic writing skills are imperative for a thesis as well as a dissertation.
  • Ethical practices must be followed while collating and documenting research data.
  • Plagiarism is not accepted in either.
  • Both require analytical skills to support the findings.
  • It is essential that both undergo intense dissertation/ thesis editing  and  critical proofreading  before final submission.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: Europe

In Europe, the original distinction between a thesis and a dissertation has been largely retained. A doctoral thesis is a focused piece of original research that is performed to obtain a Ph.D. A dissertation is part of a broader post-graduate research project.


However, the thesis has evolved since original research nowadays requires plenty of background research . So, a thesis will contain extensive citations and references to earlier work, although the focus remains on the original work that comes out of it.

Dissertation vs. Thesis: USA

In the United States, the definition of a thesis is almost the opposite of that in Europe. Because a thesis is shorter than a dissertation it gradually came to mean a preliminary degree on the way to a doctorate. A thesis is now performed to earn a Master’s degree. In scientific fields, a master’s candidate takes advanced coursework and gains hands-on experience in a research project but does not direct the project to the same extent that he would in a doctoral program. In a master’s project, the student’s ideas are welcomed and expected but the focus is on obtaining technical expertise, not doing original research. Engineering students commonly obtain Master’s degrees and seldom go on to get PhDs. In other fields such as Chemistry, the opposite is true, with a Master’s degree no longer being required as the first step for a doctorate. Almost everyone I know who received a Master’s degree in Chemistry got one because they dropped out of graduate school and wrote their truncated research as a Master’s project.

In a Nutshell

Needless to say, the dissertation vs. thesis facts are real. Therefore, using one term instead of another is not acceptable as an academic. One must remember the purpose of each and use them accordingly. However, one is not undermined by the other. Whether you are writing a thesis or a dissertation, both must be done with the same seriousness. Both require critical technical and soft skills. Improving your time management and academic writing skills plays a major role in acing both forms of scholarly writing.

How do you decipher dissertation vs. thesis? Should the interchanged usage of these terms be acceptable? How is your approach to writing a thesis different from that of a dissertation? What are the other differences associated with the thesis and dissertation? Let us know in the comments section below!

Frequently Asked Questions

"Dissertation" and "thesis" are used interchangeably but differ in: Academic Level: Thesis for master's, dissertation for doctoral degrees (US). Scope and Depth: Thesis shorter, demonstrates mastery; dissertation extensive, original research. Originality: Thesis may involve original analysis; dissertation presents significant new insights. Time and Effort: Dissertations require more resources and time than theses.

The length of a dissertation varies depending on factors like academic discipline, research topic, institution, and country. Generally, dissertations are longer than theses, ranging from 10,000 to over 100,000 words. However, word count alone does not reflect the quality or depth of the research. Guidelines from the academic institution should be consulted for specific requirements.

The length of a thesis varies depending on factors like academic discipline, research topic, institution, and country. Generally, the word count ranges from around 10,000 to 50,000 words. Specific guidelines from the academic institution should be consulted for precise requirements.

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Two Ph.D. Students Honored with Larry S. Davis Doctoral Dissertation Awards

Descriptive image for Two Ph.D. Students Honored with Larry S. Davis Doctoral Dissertation Awards

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland announced its winners of the Larry S. Davis Doctoral Dissertation Award for 2023-24, an annual honor distinguishing the department's two outstanding doctoral dissertations. This year's recipients are Marina Knittel , who plans to graduate this semester and begin a postdoctoral fellowship at UC San Diego in January, and Alexander Levine (Ph.D. '23, computer science), currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The award highlights exceptional dissertations noted for their technical depth, significance, potential for impact and presentation quality.

" Whenever you are recognized with such an award, it signifies that others agree that your research is important, and it motivates you to work harder and achieve even greater things," Knittel said. "My goal is to conduct mathematically interesting work on graph algorithms that is always grounded by its practical implications in the real world, which I do in a few ways. First, I study fairness and partake in discussions regarding ethical methodologies to conduct fair algorithmic research. Second, I study scalable graph algorithms—as in, graph algorithms on systems that can efficiently handle massive inputs. This is necessary for algorithms to continue keeping pace with the continual growth of input datasets and user expectations."

Beyond the distinction of the award itself, recipients receive a cash prize of $500. The Department also traditionally nominates the selected dissertations for the ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award.

"Marina is exceptional. Not only is she a profound thinker, but she's also a skilled writer,” said Mohammad Hajiaghayi , the Jack and Rita G. Minker Professor of Computer Science and Knittel’s advisor. “She conducts her research with great independence, focusing on big data algorithms. Specifically, she delves into the significant areas of large data sets, emphasizing fair and diverse algorithms and clustering—a crucial topic in today's AI landscape."

The award motivates Levine to further his innovative research in ways that will continue to make a sizable impact. 

"My dissertation work was mostly focused on developing machine learning techniques that are guaranteed to be robust to small changes in their inputs, even in the worst case of adversarially distorted inputs,"  Levine shared. " By providing robustness guarantees for machine learning systems, we can allow these systems to be used more confidently in safety-critical applications. I am honored that my work has been recognized by this award, and am deeply thankful for all of the support I received during my time at UMD from my advisor, my dissertation committee, and the rest of the UMD CS community."  

Levine's advisor, Associate Professor Soheil Feizi, is confident in the future impact of his research.

"Alex's thesis addresses key challenges in provably robust learning, offering vital insights into AI model sensitivities against adversarial attacks and suggesting proven solutions,” Feizi said. “He's been outstanding in our department. His passion and sharp intellect stand out, and the depth and impact of his work, even among top Ph.D. students, is truly exceptional."

Named in honor of Computer Science Professor Emeritus Larry Davis , the award celebrates his significant contributions to computer science. Davis served as chair of the Department of Computer Science from 1999 to 2012. He also served as director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies from 1985 to 1994. An IEEE Fellow since 1997, Davis's research legacy includes groundbreaking work in computer vision and high-performance computing, with over 300 publications.

Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications 

The Department welcomes comments, suggestions and corrections.  Send email to editor [-at-] cs [dot] umd [dot] edu .

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Remembering Judith Schwartzbaum

A view of campus from Cunz Hall

It is with deep sadness that the College of Public Health shares news of the passing of recently retired faculty member Judith Schwartzbaum.

“Dr. Judith A. Schwartzbaum was indeed a talented, beautiful and inspirational friend and colleague, and a treasure to those who knew her,” said longtime colleague and collaborator Randall Harris, professor of epidemiology.

dissertation masters vs phd

Vice Dean Michael Bisesi praised Schwartzbaum’s contributions to the college, and to the field.

“Judy was very caring about her students, extremely candid and had a big heart,” he said.

Amy Ferketich, interim chair of epidemiology, first got to know Schwartzbaum when she was a graduate student.

“Judy was my PhD candidacy exam committee chair and was on my dissertation committee — she taught me how to think like an epidemiologist and write like a scientist!” Ferketich said. 

Ferketich also recalled the joy the two of them had taking tap dance lessons at Ballet Met and performing at a CPH holiday party alongside former staff member Terri Roberts. 

Performance was in Schwartzbaum’s blood. She grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of an actress and movie producer and became well known in the Columbus dance community for her ballet and tap-dancing talent, Harris said.

“Judy loved her life in Clintonville and was a well-known figure and leader in the community, usually accompanied by her wonderful rescue dog Lucy,” he said.

Schwartzbaum earned her PhD in epidemiology from UCLA and was one of the first women to join the faculty of the Department of Preventive Medicine in The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Her research focused on glioblastoma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. Schwartzbaum discovered the protective role of allergic immunity against glioblastoma, work that has led to ongoing research into prevention and treatment.

Throughout her three decades working in public health at Ohio State, Schwartzbaum sustained strong and passionate advocacy for the rights of women and people from under-represented minorities in academia, Harris said.  

“Many of her students have gone on to achieve brilliant success, a tribute to her ability to stimulate creative thinking and professionalism in the field,” he said.

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health  is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College's divisions include biostatistics , environmental health sciences , epidemiology , health behavior and health promotion , and health services management and policy .   It is ranked 22 nd  among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by  U.S. News and World Report , and also includes the  top 8-ranked MHA degree program .  The college’s epidemiology specialty was ranked 19 th . The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Evaluation Studies (HOPES) and Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP).

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