A recent question on Quora was: “What Does a PhD student know that a MS student doesn’t”? I started to write my opinion and realized that it was going to take a while so stopped. But after some reflection, this what I think – blurbed out here instead of Quora.
MS graduates often do not know what they do not know. PhDs often do know what they do not know – but also know how to repair their ignorance.
My experience supports my answer to the question. I am in my 70’s and own about 30 years experience as a post-grad engineer, during which time I have worked with many MS and PhDs in engineering practice and academia. (Note: I do not believe one is ever “too old” to attempt any challenge – I was 42 when I started my MS; and, 46 when I finished my PhD – at UC Berkeley, so it was a challenge. You may have to give up the attempt but courage does not have a shelf life. So if you have a MS and want more- it’s never too late!)
MS students from fine universities (such as Berkeley) have a tough time of it. It is hard to get into graduate programs and once in, the work is grueling. Once graduated, tired and proud MS students feel that they now KNOW their chosen fields, which are often specialties in a broader discipline (in my case Geotechnical Engineering, a specialty of Civil Engineering). After all, it was so hard to get the MS and they learned so much more than they knew when they started the graduate program. They fell that they MUST know the field.
But: they do not – there is so much more to learn. That learning comes from practical experience and/or more research.
My life did not change much once I got my MS. At 43 I actually felt more ignorant than I had when I started grad studies. But my life did change once I got the PhD. I knew I was ignorant in many aspects of geotechnical engineering. But I also knew how to remedy my ignorance by research, reading and the like. I no longer felt intimidated by people with “Higher Education”. Knowing what I did not know – the most significance benefit of a PhD – I also knew that they did not know everything either.
So there is a difference between MS and PhD folk. Also: at Berkeley, new PhDs get to suck lollipops…