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nikcool
04-06-2013, 11:40 AM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

cornflake
04-06-2013, 11:50 AM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

What degrees are they pursuing?

I've never heard of a group thesis, but there may be some in some area I'm not familiar with. There are class projects.

Generally, no.

waylander
04-06-2013, 11:50 AM
Someone could possibly get into grad school if they brought their own funding.
It is fairly common for multiple students to be working on a major project and how each individual is given credit is really up to the professor running the project. The students would be given significant direction about how to write up their contributions.

lastlittlebird
04-06-2013, 01:52 PM
It depends on what you mean by "bad student".
I've definitely known grad students who got into their programs because they were brilliant, but weren't prepared to deal with the massive workload once they were in.

And as to what they talk about, it really depends on the people and what they are studying... I was in a creative writing course and also chatted with some of the literature grad students and when we did disagree it was over which was so-and-sos best work, what that symbolism means, whether it's OK to use that kind of swear word, whether people should be writing for themselves or an audience etc... actually, not all that different from what people argue about on AW sometimes :)
So, it might be a good idea, if you've got science grad students, to go to a science forum to see what they argue over, etc.

Chris P
04-06-2013, 02:09 PM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

Yes, many of us :)

Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

This is common. Being snubbed on a publication is a common source of discord that can last an entire career. Other things include academic arguments over this philosophy or that, or if they are in the same group about someone hogging the equipment, etc.

Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

No. The individual chapters can have coauthors, but the thesis/dissertation itself is a solo effort. Mine for both MS and PhD consisted of published journal articles which had coauthors but the overview chapters and appendices were me alone. A thesis (at least where I went) is at the Master's level and a dissertation is at the PhD level.

I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

Oh, lordy, yes they can! *facepalms at certain memories* The student is looked at as an overall package, with grades only being part of the package. Other parts are work experiences (if applicable), any funding or fellowships the student might bring with him or her, but letters of recommendation carry A LOT of weight. Someone with poor grades but who somehow gets rock-star-quality letters of recommendation has a better chance than someone with straight A's but lame recs.


I hope that helps!

Saanen
04-06-2013, 05:52 PM
Like others have said, what the students argue over depends on what they're studying. Same for their projects. Thesis is not a group project, but I had several classes where a big part of my grade depended on a group project. As I recall, we did most of the planning/arguing in various restaurants (if we hadn't had two super-conservative religious folks in our group, it probably would have been bars instead, but they didn't drink).

My grad program was small and almost everyone was really dedicated. That's not to say they were all good scholars, though. I know some of them struggled with the more academic aspects of the program (this was for an M.Ed in K-8 teaching, so a lot of it was hands-on work). We had one guy kicked from the program because his grades slipped too far, although there may have been other issues too.

veinglory
04-06-2013, 05:58 PM
And what geographical area and type of school it is. No university I attended would use the words 'school' or 'project' and we there would never be a joint thesis as this is a individual criteria for a person getting their masters or doctorate

And the goal would be to eject a bad student before the thesis stage as having them fail their thesis was considered a waste of resources and an embarrassment for the university

Kitti
04-06-2013, 06:51 PM
Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

Also stealing each others' ideas. I have never seen it myself, but we all hear the horror stories about people who deliberately mis-shelve books in the library or otherwise hide them so that other people working on similar projects can't find them!

Most of my grad student arguments, though, were simple disagreements over how to interpret a piece of evidence (i.e. an individual's analysis of a secondary or primary source).


Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

Just FYI, a thesis in the US is generally a Master's Thesis (the dissertation is for the PhD), whereas in the UK I'm pretty sure it's flipped.

The only "group" projects I ever did were working out problem sets with my fellow students and that was optional, not something we were required to do. Given the structure of a graduate course, those problem sets can be 100% of your grade, so that would probably count as a very important project...


I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

There are many, many ways to fail out of grad school. It's actually kind of normal, IME, for about 50% of students to "drop out" of a PhD program by taking their master's degree and running. A lot of universities also give less funding to students in their first year, figuring that those who didn't know what they're getting into will drop out and there's no point throwing money after them until it's certain they'll stick around.

Even a good student can be totally overwhelmed by going to grad school, where it's ALL ONE SUBJECT, ALL THE TIME. And unlike the workforce, there is no concept of "going home" or being "off work." The number of nights I was in the grad student office, doing homework problem sets with my fellow grad students until 1 or 2am... with class again at 9am... oof.

kaitie
04-06-2013, 07:32 PM
Here's my experience from grad school:

People argue about all kinds of things, but mostly interpretations. I had plenty of arguments with students over things like what a source meant, etc., like Kitty said. I was also in a highly subjective field.

We also sometimes complained to each other (though not argued) about things like how some students made it so far in the program when they were holding the rest of us back asking questions that had been answered in our first semester, how some teachers taught classes more easily than others, how certain students were allowed greater flexibility than we were, etc.

Here's an interesting situation that might help. I won't name names or say my program, but the field I went into had two overlapping programs taking the same classes for the majority of our course load. One of the programs (not mine) was highly popular and brought in a ton of money to the university. As such, it had lower standards for admittance, as well as lower standards for the classes. That meant that when my program required, for example, an 80 to pass the class, their program required only a 70 for the same class. It also meant teachers allowed those students to retake tests, rewrite papers, etc., to get their 70, while my program did not--even though we were taking the same class at the same time with the same teacher.

You can imagine that we didn't much appreciate it. The lower students often brought down the classes, and those in my program often felt that it was putting out students who weren't prepared just to bring in the money.

I'm not sure how common a scenario like this would be, but I can guarantee that we had some discussions about this outside of class and it wasn't incredibly popular, and that it also guaranteed poor students in the classes.

If a program is highly competitive, you'll have fewer instances of poor students slipping in because the standards are by necessity high. If you have a program where a program is just a money maker for the university and tries to draw in as many people as possible, you'll have many more poor students. In my experience, anyway.

As for group work, I had a couple of group projects, but I don't know of a group thesis. Usually the projects involved writing individual papers, making observations, doing an experiment, something like that, and reporting our findings together.

I didn't always have particularly positive experiences with this. I found that in grad school I often had the same problems as in undergrad. I had one group in which the other two members were friends and cliquey, and they were pretty awful to work with. In another, I had a group member who just didn't do any of the work herself.

My boyfriend has had similar experiences as he's in grad school right now. Just recently he had a group project where they would send suggestions out to everyone about "this is what we think you should do" and they were supposed to elaborate, and one member just sent back exactly what he'd already done with no additions (and of course no one could contact her until she showed up on the day of). That sort of thing could definitely lead to conflict, too.

CrastersBabies
04-06-2013, 08:35 PM
Never heard of a group thesis, no. A thesis showcases an individual's work. They must defend it and often pass examinations as well.

It really depends on the degree they are getting. People in the same master's programs tend to get close as they are taking the same classes and enter into programs at the same time. For me, there were around 8 of us who started at the same time and we all maintained contact after the program. Some got closer than others (studied together, etc).

For me, I was in a creative writing program and we would debate (in a friendly way) about literature, writing craft, etc. If someone is in a philosophy program, for example, they might argue about various philosophers. Education majors might argue methods and theorists. Engineering majors might argue about robotics or such.

I cannot imagine being a law major. Those people would probably drive each other nuts. I have a friend who went to law school and she "rules lawyers" her way through every board game and always wins.

There were a LOT of group projects for both my master's degrees. Lots of group presentations. One of my groups did a wiki together and two of the three people did most of the work. Kind of pisses you off. Or, the grammar nerd (like me) ends up fixing everyone else's work. Group projects can be anything from presenting a topic, a theorist, a process/method.

nikcool
04-06-2013, 09:22 PM
Thanks for all of your help, everyone!

They are pursuing Master Degrees in Physics, and yes, one of the characters has a rich parent who made lots of donations to their school. (Which is in NYC).

I will make a few changes from what I've learned here. They will not be working on a group thesis.

Would the students have time to work on something outside of classes?

Would the poor student know he was about to be booted from the program, or would he be pressured to drop out?

WriterTrek
04-06-2013, 09:37 PM
Check out the PhDComics (http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/most_popular.php) Strip for ideas. I went to grad school and a lot of these are spot on, it's fantastic.

Also never heard of a group thesis (Master's). I got a PhD and we called it a Dissertation instead of a thesis, so keep that in mind, but that might just be my area.

WriterTrek
04-06-2013, 09:39 PM
Would the students have time to work on something outside of classes?If he's doing Physics he's probably doing research moreso than taking classes, and likely teaching a lab, and that's going to take up most of his time. But there is always time for something else if you are really and truly determined to make time for it.


Would the poor student know he was about to be booted from the program, or would he be pressured to drop out?Most of the time you'd be likely to know if you were about to get booted. At my school you had to give updates every year, and if you didn't pass one then you got to try again the next semester, and if you didn't pass that time then you were out. But at any rate you had some warning that you were in danger.

Siri Kirpal
04-06-2013, 09:47 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Didn't go to graduate school myself, but one of my brothers did. He majored in Marine Biology, and managed to get a black belt in Aikido while he was doing it. So, yes, it's possible for a grad student to have time for other things.

Research projects can be group efforts, but not the thesis or dissertation. My brother made the momentous :) find that cocapods (sp?) puke. His dissertation on the subject is credited to him, but the research paper he presented is credited first to his professor and then to him.

Hope that helps.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Chris P
04-06-2013, 10:02 PM
Would the students have time to work on something outside of classes?

Would the poor student know he was about to be booted from the program, or would he be pressured to drop out?

Working outside of classes depends on the individual's project and how well he or she manages her time. I was swamped the first couple years, and was in the lab every day and on the computer every evening. My major prof even locked me out of the building at noon the day before Christmas just to get me to go home. But after a while I figured how to manage my time, when to say "no" to extra work, and found time on the weekends for hobbies and social time. I even got involved in some community activities.

A poor student would have ample warning in the form of discussions with his or her major prof or program of study committee. If it's only grades but the labwork is good, the prof or committee members might offer to tutor the student or arrange for tutoring or study groups. If the labwork is poor as well, the student can be assigned specific tasks to be done in a certain way, with regular reporting to the major prof (who is usually also the lab supervisor). We had a letter of intent that needed to be renewed each year, and profs would simply not renew if they didn't want to retain the student.

Someone mentioned exams above. FWIW, where I went (in the US) at the MS level I first assembled a program of study (POS) committee of faculty members. We then met to discuss my planned coursework and held another meeting later to discuss my research project. The department required that I give two departmental seminars, the first being a "non-thesis" seminar that was supposed to be about anything other than my project (this was to prevent me from just presenting my literature review as a seminar.) Then, once I had completed the coursework and research, I had to give a "thesis" seminar about my project. This was attended by the POS committee, and the MS defense with just the committee present was held separately. In some cases, the seminar came first, in others the defense came first. For PhD, I had the same requirements for assembling the POS committee and discussing coursework and research project, but then came (dramatic music) THE PRELIMS!!!! I studied for about six months, at least two hours a day and ramping up as the date got closer. The profs did give me hints on what to study for, although one said "you should know something about mosquitoes" and another said "read these articles and be prepared to discuss them." So it's pretty random. Each committee member gave me a written exam in the two weeks leading up to the oral exam. The format and requirements of the written prelims differed with the prof; one gave me a chemical to draw a synthesis pathway for, another gave me insect specimens to identify. The orals were about three hours of all of them asking me questions. There were doughnuts, coffee, and professorial egos galore. It was actually fun in a stressful way, and I could probably tell three hours of stories about the three hour exam. If the student passes, he or she is officially a "PhD candidate" and can proceed with their projects (although most of the time the projects were well underway and some of the coursework taken already). If the student fails, the POS committee can either separate the student outright or decide to have another exam in six months or so. Some of my friends failed, and were given certain tasks or things to study to help them prepare. I'd say probably 1/3 of the students failed the first prelims, and of those all but a few didn't pass the second time, after which they were booted. The seminars and defense were the same as for the MS.

I hope that helps! Sometimes it's not immediately obvious from the outside what the process is, or is like.

kaitie
04-06-2013, 10:13 PM
As a teacher, I can say a student will always be told when they're in danger of being booted from a program. Most schools require it.

mayqueen
04-07-2013, 02:36 AM
I'm getting a PhD in sociology, so that's an entirely different field than physics. But I can't imagine a student being booted without warning from any program. I also can't speak to that discipline, but I'm able to work on projects outside of my program. It's all about how motivated you are and how well you manage your time.

OJCade
04-07-2013, 04:33 AM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

Yes. Have a Masters and am in the final stages of a PhD.


Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

Because a thesis can't be a group project, students are very often doing their own thing. I've got no reason to argue with my fellow grad students - for example, I'm in science communication. My thesis looks at science poetry. Other PhD students in my department are looking at, for example, communication after earthquakes, and the presentation of forensic science in novels. There's no overlap, and no reason to argue.

If we were all working on a very similar project - similar enough that we produced a joint paper, for instance - then it's possible that we could disagree over who is listed as first author. However, any sensible person would sort this out prior to doing the work, and anyway I at least remember graduate seminars that discussed this very issue, precisely so that students would know what to do and how to handle it. However, it's far more likely that any joint paper published by a student would be published with their supervisor, rather than with other students.


Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

No.


I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

In my experience it's unlikely. Grad school very often requires a minimum grade score from undergrad in order to be successful. Besides which, there are six monthly checks (in my experience) throughout the PhD anyway, where your progress is assessed. If you're a terrible student, you'll be booted from the programme. This is a waste of everyone's time, so the university tries to avoid this by only admitting grad students with a decent record.

Hope this helps!

cornflake
04-07-2013, 05:56 AM
If the student passes, he or she is officially a "PhD candidate" and can proceed with their projects (although most of the time the projects were well underway and some of the coursework taken already). If the student fails, the POS committee can either separate the student outright or decide to have another exam in six months or so. Some of my friends failed, and were given certain tasks or things to study to help them prepare. I'd say probably 1/3 of the students failed the first prelims, and of those all but a few didn't pass the second time, after which they were booted. The seminars and defense were the same as for the MS.

This kind of thing depends entirely on the field and the institution. In my field, and certainly in my school, which does have both Master's and Ph.D degrees offered for a number of the same disciplines, no one automatically advances simply by obtaining a Master's.

There are people from all over applying to the doctoral program - you have to apply same as anyone else. Most people looking to advance apply to a number of programs and see where they get in, who offers what, etc.

Also both Master's and doctoral programs in some fields require specific credit hours worth of differing course work and some have only written/research-based theses with or without oral defense as a means of degree completion while some have an alternate (qualifying exam, extended externship plus something, etc). Again, totally depends on the program/institution. Hard science, in my experience, generally requires research-based, written thesis with oral defense.

Summonere
04-07-2013, 06:11 AM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

Yes.

Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

I was an English / Creative Studies grad school guy. Most arguments were about who was going to pay for the beer, followed by arguments about literature and how the latest popular novel was in fact stupid and shallow and doomed to be quickly forgotten, and how the latest critically acclaimed novel was stupid and shallow and undeserving of praise and equally doomed to be quickly forgotten.

Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

Not that I know of. But I don't know everything. Mine was just mine. No one else's.

I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

Hmm. I'm tempted to say, “Hell, they let me in,” but I was apparently not a terrible student, after all. Cant's say I can think of a single “terrible” student in grad school, though. Maybe there were some, but I never met any.

Would the students have time to work on something outside of classes?

I did. I was cruising on scholarship money, working, and writing and submitting stories.

Would the poor student know he was about to be booted from the program, or would he be pressured to drop out?

Program I was in had pretty strict rules about maintaining a sufficiently high GPA and made it quite plain at at the outset (after submission and approval of a portfolio, and an interview with the chairman of the department) the academic circumstances that would lead to being dropped from the program. Among these circumstances: not maintaining a sufficiently high GPA, not showing timely progress toward acquiring the degree.

espresso5
04-07-2013, 08:56 AM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?
Grad students don't argue, they discuss. About what? Anything and everything.

Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?
If you mean thesis as in PhD thesis, never. Never, never, never.

I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?
Depends. There are grad programs that will take any student as long as they are tuition payers. The competitive programs, and really the only legit programs at the PhD level (someone will probably jump on that statement), offer fellowships. There are grad programs that will accept semi-illiterate students if they are willing to pay tuition.

1

RachaelLaWriter
04-08-2013, 07:40 AM
I have two graduate degrees (an M.A. in Education and an MFA in Creative Writing, so not necessarily what you're looking for). I also have close friends who either pursued or are pursuing PhDs in Statistics, Economics, and Molecular Biology. My Education masters required a lot of group projects, and any grade below a B was considered a failing grade. That said, my thesis was an independent, year-long project and I had to give my own thesis defense about a month before graduation.

My PhD-pursuing friends all had incredibly stressful first years as they prepared to take qualifying exams, which would allow them to continue their PhD studies. My friend in the Statistics program was informed that his grades and test scores from his first year of the program were poor enough that he'd have to pass quals with flying colors, and so while he was studying for those exams, he did next to nothing else. He knew exactly how much was on the line and what relatively little regard his professors had for him at the end of that first year. Since passing those exams, he's had plenty of time to pursue other hobbies and interests outside of his schoolwork, and he's about a year away from completing the research needed for his dissertation. He's also developed positive relationships with several professors.

My friend in the Econ program did not pass her qualifying exams the first time around, and so she was allowed to re-take them six weeks later (she passed the second time). If she hadn't passed, she would have been kicked out of the program. I know she's also had arguments with her classmates about shared TA-ships, undergrad students cheating on tests, etc. She generally enjoys the program, but she knows that her undergraduate Econ degree program didn't teach her the math needed to really succeed in her PhD program (her PhD university straight-up told her that her undergraduate Econ department had done her a great disservice).

My friend who was pursuing his PhD in Molecular Biology ended up leaving his program after five years, without the PhD. He passed his qualifying exams after two years of coursework and went to work in a lab on a graduate stipend as part of his dissertation research. After three years of getting nowhere -- and working for professors who didn't seem to care about helping him advance his research -- he left the program with a masters degree and went to work in a research lab at another university.

I know this is all anecdotal evidence, but I hope it's helpful!

kuwisdelu
04-08-2013, 10:44 AM
Has anyone here gone to grad school?

PhD student in statistics here.


Three of my characters are students that argue ( It's usually over who is getting credit ) What types of academic things do students argue about?

Academic things? Depends on what their area is.

In statistics, hot topics of debate are things like Bayesian vs. frequentist statistical techniques, the accuracy and robustness of a technique vs. its interpretability and capability for inference, whether you need to provide software when you publish a new technique, the validity of certain datasets, etc.

In physics, there are a bunch of sub-fields, which I imagine would impact the kind of debate as well. Whether string theory is bull or not, whether we've really found the Higgs boson or not, whether the Standard Model is correct or needs extension, whether we'll ever unify general relativity and QM, etc.


Three of my characters are supposed to be working together on a very important school project. Can a thesis ever be a group project?

No.

If you're doing a PhD, you'll end up doing an awful lot of research work, and a lot of it will probably be interdisciplinary or crossover with another student's work or both. It's common to be working with other people in a PhD program in order to actually get the results you need, but the dissertation itself would be your own work.

With an MS, you have less time, so you'll probably spend more of it working solo. There's still opportunities for side projects, though.

If you're talking about coursework, though, then yes, it's pretty common to have a group project in a graduate course.


I have a character who is a terrible student. Could someone get into a grad school even though they weren't a very good student?

Depends what you mean be "terrible student."

Yes, you can often get into and even succeed in grad school if you weren't a traditionally good student. Grad school is a lot more about independent effort on a project of your interest than it is about courses and taking tests. My own GPA has plummeted since undergrad. Fortunately, it's less important now.

There is coursework and exams. The importance of those will vary from university to university. At my school, once you're in grad school, you're an investment. They want you to succeed, and tend to be understanding about the rigor and difficulty of coursework. What's really important isn't your grades but your independent research. That said, they'll still get after you if you fail a course (like I did last semester) and in my department, you can't have more than two C's on your Plan of Study (which don't necessarily include all of your coursework).

My school has qualifying exams and coursework requirements, but they give you time to pass them and fulfill them. I still have to pass Quals myself, and this August is probably my last "free" chance. If you don't pass or don't meet requirements, you can petition the graduate school to give you an extension. At that point, your own research work is important. If it's clear you're doing good work, putting in effort, and you're just having trouble with a few classes or exam areas, then they'll usually be lenient and let it slide. (It tends to happen to everyone. Grad school is tough, and everyone has trouble somewhere. My department head has reassured me that I'm not alone in that...)


Thanks for all of your help, everyone!

They are pursuing Master Degrees in Physics, and yes, one of the characters has a rich parent who made lots of donations to their school. (Which is in NYC).

I'm only recently getting acquainted with the politics and bureaucracy of a university department, so I'm not quite sure how that'd play out.

Were they donations to the university, the college, or the department? I imagine that would make a difference.


I will make a few changes from what I've learned here. They will not be working on a group thesis.

While there's no such thing as a group thesis, they could still be working on a particular experiment together, or a course project.


Would the students have time to work on something outside of classes?

Usually after your first year (in an MS) or your third year (in a PhD) your coursework is done and pretty much all of your work is independent research outside of classes.

But that's probably not what you meant. Yeah, it depends on the person, but most people will find time to do something outside of coursework and research.


Would the poor student know he was about to be booted from the program, or would he be pressured to drop out?

Well, you'd know if you weren't meeting expectations, since requirements are usually given in a student handbook of sorts. You'd know if you were failing to meet them.

Usually the requirements are more flexible in grad school, so you might not know how lenient they'll be with you. As I mentioned before, there's both coursework and research work to take into account. If you're struggling in one but making good progress in another, the department will usually work with you.

At least, that's how my department works. It's extremely rare for us to boot anyone from the program once you're admitted. They wouldn't admit you if they didn't think you could succeed.

Chris P
04-08-2013, 12:16 PM
This kind of thing depends entirely on the field and the institution. In my field, and certainly in my school, which does have both Master's and Ph.D degrees offered for a number of the same disciplines, no one automatically advances simply by obtaining a Master's.


Yes, excellent point. Some people stop at a Master's because that's what fits their goals, others aren't accepted for the PhD program at that university, but there is such a thing as a "terminal Master's" where the student is not allowed to continue. One of the lousy students I knew was only given the MS if it was a terminal MS and he wouldn't go on for a PhD, at that university or elsewhere. How I knew him is he applied for a PhD program at another university (where I was adjunct) without indicating the previous MS was terminal. By a comedy of errors, nobody (this still boggles my mind) contacted his old university and he was accepted. The story goes on, involves several professors (including myself and one who ran off to China) and the university police. Lordy it's a good thing I can laugh now.

kuwisdelu
04-08-2013, 02:53 PM
Eh? *shrug* I initially entered my program going for a terminal MS.

That was when I was an undergrad.

I ended up realizing there weren't any interesting jobs for an MS, and petitioned to continue into the PhD program.