"There have always been highly capable women wanting to be scientists." Rita Colwell, PhD
Guest Blogger: Beth Webb!
March 29, 2022
Today I invited Beth to guest blog! Today Beth is going to be discussing if a masters degree is needed to apply to PhD programs. Beth is in her final year at the University of Leeds in the UK studying platelet inhibitory signaling pathways in relation to cardiovascular disease.
Check out Beth's Advice for future Phd Students:
1. Volunteer some time in a lab - paid or unpaid, whatever is feasible for you. It will make a huge difference and give you something extra to talk about in your applications and interviews.
2. Speak to your undergrad professors to see if there are any lab jobs or experience available - putting yourself out there can lead you to all sorts of things.
3. Build a network of people in your chosen field - most people are happy to help if you ask.
4. Apply for PhDs straight from your undergrad - you never know, you might be successful and if you’re not ask for specific feedback where possible.
5. Sell any experience you have - I’ve worked all sorts of jobs and when it came to PhD applications, I incorporated all the skills I’d learnt from these jobs into how they would help me as a PhD candidate.
Here's Beth's Post: Hi, I'm Beth! Something interesting about me, is that I didn’t complete a masters before going on to do a PhD. I get asked a lot of questions about this so when Jaqueline asked me if I wanted to be a guest blogger, I thought I’d discuss it further.
Here in the UK, you can do a PhD without a masters, it’s not a requirement for all PhD programmes, however it does help if you have one! It really does depend on which country and field you want to pursue a PhD in, as to whether a masters is necessary or not.
For me, a master’s degree was inaccessible as it will be for a lot of people. You can get a £11.5k master’s loan but that pretty much just covers the tuition fees. Aside from extremely competitive scholarships, there is currently no government scheme available to help with living costs during a masters. This meant that a masters just wasn’t an option for me.
I’d worked throughout my undergraduate so sure, that was an option, but I was kind of done with working part-time whilst studying extremely demanding degrees. It’s hard work and I’ve spoken to friends that did this and I’m pleased I didn’t! I think it would have put me off doing a PhD…
I applied for PhDs straight out of my undergrad and was unsuccessful. I did however manage to get a job as a research assistant in the lab I did my placement year and it’s that experience that lead me towards being accepted onto the PhD programme I’m on today! I worked in this lab for just over a year and a half, it allowed me to gain relevant experience for pursing a PhD and I had the fantastic opportunity of presenting my work at a conference. Whilst I don’t have a master’s degree, this experience made me feel like I’d gained the appropriate lab experience that I would have gained during a masters. I do still sometimes get imposter syndrome when it comes to having not done a master’s degree, I think in some ways it would have helped me academically but thankfully I’ve had a very good support system during my PhD that’s allowed me to develop my academic skills.
If you’re not in a position to do a master’s degree I’d recommend getting as much experience in your chosen field as you can. Personally, I think experience speaks volumes!
In the UK, an alternative route to pursuing a masters (without having to take out the masters loan) is to pursue a degree with an integrated masters. These are much more common than they used to be, it means that your degree is an integrated master’s degree, and you can opt out if you don’t want to continue to master’s level. It also means you are eligible for traditional student finance which does include living costs. If this was an option for my whilst I was at uni, I would have considered this as it may have helped with my PhD applications and feeling a bit more academically able to do a PhD.
All that being said, I don’t regret not doing a masters. Like I said, it wasn’t a financially viable option for me. Working in a lab prepared me a great deal for doing a PhD and it meant I was already confident and comfortable in the lab, especially when it came to planning my time and experiments, as well as analyses.
It was just the writing reports, essays and taking part in journal clubs that I felt I lacked experience. However, all this came with time, and I don’t feel like I missed out in any way. It was just a slightly different route to studying for a PhD.
Don't forget to follow Beth on Instagram: @_bethology