Friday, January 22, 2010

Masters Programs in Systematics

Every year I find myself advising a few students interested in masters programs in systematics. Most of these students express an interest in earning a doctoral degree, but lack the research experience required to know whether a PhD program is right for them or to be competitive for the best doctoral programs. My problem as an adviser is that I just don't know about many masters programs that are appropriate for such students. Because I'm sure there are plenty of programs out there, I'm asking for your help in finding them. By having this discussion on the blog, I'm hopefully that other students and advisers will be able to benefit from the information we're able to share.

In addition to inviting comments to this post, I'd like to invite anyone involved in a masters program in systematics to submit a brief blurb about their program as a guest post on Dechronization. Just send a concise one paragraph statement to me via e-mail (rglor -at- ur.rochester.edu), being sure to include information on how your students are funded and whether your program is course- or research-based.

22 comments:

Ph.Dad said...

Several people have come out of Ben Normark's lab at Univ. of Massachusetts with masters in insect systematics. They seem to do some very cool work and (in some cases) go on to top PhD programs.

http://www.umass.edu/psis/personnel/normark.html

Glor said...

San Diego State University has a long history of training systematists interested in herpetology, many of whom go on to PhD programs and faculty positions. Most recently, these students have been coming out of Tod Reeder's lab .

Chris Hamilton said...

Dr. Jason Bond's lab (my advisor) at East Carolina University works on mygalomorph spider systematics, as well as millipede systematics.

The University of Texas at Arlington (where I got my Masters) has had a long history of Masters students in herpetology systematics (Dr. Paul Chippindale's lab, Dr. Eric Smith's lab, and Dr. Jonathan Campbell's lab).

Jessica said...

I second both San Diego State and East Carolina. Down in Louisiana, check out Southeastern State University (http://www.selu.edu/). The faculty in the Dept. of Biological Sciences are churning out lots of great scientists (http://www.selu.edu/acad_research/depts/biol/faculty/directory/index.html)

Susan Perkins said...

Thanks for asking this, Rich. With our new PhD program, we have often liked it when students had Masters degrees, but we don't offer them and know that many other places don't either. Although they've switched to primarily giving Ph.D., my alma mater, the University of Vermont, was the Masters home for some successful folks like Jack Sullivan and Chip Aquadro.

Dan Rabosky said...

Pursuing an MS is often discouraged for many students, but I think there are other reasons for the degree beyond what Rich mentions. Evolution and ecology are enormous fields, and there are folks who - while absolutely certain they'd like to go on for a PhD - would like to get a little more experience in some particular area, like systematics or population genetics, before selecting a particular PhD program and/or advisor. Do our undergrad research experiences really expose us to enough of the breadth of these fields to make decisions about what general areas we should tackle for our PhD? This was not true for me, and I suppose there are others with similar experiences.

Matt Brandley said...

Getting an M.S. with Tod Reeder at San Diego State was one of the best academic decisions I made. At the very least, getting an MS and PhD allows you to work closely with multiple researchers.

FZ said...

The University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) offers a good masters program (with thesis; there is also a non-thesis option) with emphasis in plant systematics. The strong connection with the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) provides great access to collections, literature, field expeditions, etc. It is also a very international program, largely because of the links of MBG with other institutions worldwide (mainly in the tropics). There is also the possibility to enroll in a MSc with emphasis in population or community ecology in other labs at UMSL.

Glor said...

@Brandley and FZ
How does funding work at San Diego and UMSL? Do masters students get a tuition waiver? Is it possible to earn a stipend through TAs or RAs?

Ron DeBry said...

We have an active MS program here at Cincinnati (though not specifically in systematics). MS students are supported on Teaching Assistanships. PhD students do get paid a bit more, and MS students do most of the summer TAing - otherwise they are treated the same. MS students receive the same tuition waiver as PhD students.

While everyone likes to have PhD students, I would love to have an MS student(s) who is motivated by an inherent interest in systematics and/or evolutionary biology.

Glor said...

@Ron
Sounds like Cincinnati has a pretty good deal for MS students. You guys also have a diverse group of faculty that should be appealing to people looking to do the sort of exploratory work that Rabosky mentioned.

Gifford said...

Similar to Ron's program @ Cincinnati, we in the Biology Department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have an active Master's program that is showing signs of growth (again, not specifically in systematics). We have faculty with a broad range of research interests, including evolutionary biology. MS students are supported by TAs or RAs (depending on PI funding), both of which include a tuition waiver.

I want to second Rabosky's post...that often a Master's degree provides an important arena to explore avenues of research prior to tackling specific areas of interest for a PhD. I personally feel that MS programs occupy an important niche in this regard.

sergios-orestis kolokotronis said...

Joint Masters from the Natural History Museum and Imperial College in London.

MRes in Biosystematics

MS in Taxonomy and Biodiversity

FZ said...

@Glor, TA for masters students is a possibility but it's not that common (contrary to PhD). RA is usually the way most masters students are supported. It is also possible to get financial support through MBG (tuition waiver+stipend) and for international students there is the possibility to apply for a fellowship (http://tinyurl.com/yev4tpp); many international students in plant systematics have had this fellowship. As a graduate student at UMSL, one also has the great opportunity to interact with other Ecology Evolution Systematics students/faculty in town from Washington U (you may remember that), and St. Louis University, and even enroll in graduate level courses in those universities.

Glor said...

@FZ Absolutely, I remember interacting with lots of really bright students from UMSL in graduate courses at WashU. I was always particularly impressed with UMSL's ability to recruit the best students from Latin America at both the MS and PhD levels.

Glor said...

@FZ PS - Great to hear from you Felipe, I didn't realize that was you until I looked up your webpage.

Bryan Carstens said...

Several thoughts: (1). I did a MS before my Ph. D, and it was one of the best career decisions that I've made. It is incredibly valuable to have the opportunity to interact with two sets of scientists during graduate school, and often there are courses or other opportunities that you can access at one place by not the other. (2) I absolutely agree with Jessica about the quality of the scientists at South Eastern Louisiana University. I recently gave a talk there, and was very impressed with the research going on there.

Tom Near said...

I would like to agree with Bryan and Matt's experiences with their M.S. degrees. I too did an M.S. and was able to net research and scholarship experience, and five publications.

The one top-tier EEB department in the US that I know actively recruits M.S. students is the University of Tennessee. There are a great collection of young faculty there with diverse interests. One could certainly study systematics of fish, fungi, herpetiles, plants, or even butterflies at the "real" UT.

Glor said...

@Tom
How are masters students at the "real" UT supported?

Tom Near said...

Rich, they are supported with the same stipends as the Ph.D. students, which is a very nice amount for living in Knoxville.

Ross Mounce said...

As a very recent graduate of the Imperial College/Natural History Museum MSc program (class of 2008-09), I can definitely recommend it. I particularly like the way they teach systematics as a whole, including morphology and palaeontology rather than just a narrow molecular (only) approach.

1.) Nearly everyone got at least 50% NERC funding (don't know if that would be available to overseas students though).

2.) Most students who wanted to go on to do a PhD (on both the MRes and the MSc) have been successful in doing so. A surprisingly high 'conversion rate' all things considered.

3.) You get taught by world class academics such as Donald Quicke, Alfried Vogler, Norman MacLeod, Vincent Savolainen, Peter Foster, Andy Purvis, Andrew Smith, Juliet Brodie... too many names to mention them all.

Sure; I went there, so my opinion of it is biased but the feeling is genuine. Its a great course.

Other UK systematics courses I'm aware of are:
a) Reading University http://www.reading.ac.uk/biologicalsciences/pg-taught/biosci-pgtmscplantdiversity.aspx
b) University of Glasgow http://www.gla.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/bls/evolutionarybiologysystematics/

Jaime said...

You might also look to Canada, where M.Sc. is near-standard in the natural sciences and departmental funding of Master's students proceeds much like Ph.D funding. Funding for international students is sometimes a bit tricky, but always workable.

E.G.
http://www.landfood.ubc.ca/graduate/programs/plant-science
http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/SandE.hp/S&Ehomepage.html
http://www.csb.utoronto.ca/faculty
http://www.eeb.utoronto.ca/research/areas/biodiversity-systematics
http://www.mcgill.ca/redpath/teaching/grad/