a joint project of the National Association of System Heads and the Professional Science Master’s Degree Program

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PSM FAQs and Websites

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What’s a PSM? A “PSM” is a Professional Science Master’s program leading to a non-thesis master’s degree. Its purpose is to prepare science (and mathematics) students for career paths other than in teaching or as principal investigators in scientific research.
  2. Who pursues a PSM program? Several populations are attracted to the PSM: 1) recent graduates with science or mathematics bachelor’s degrees who want to be more than techies in a lab, yet don’t want to leave science entirely to pursue an MBA or law degree; and 2) working science professionals whose employers pay their tuition. Recently, PSM programs have begun to target 3) active military on their way to becoming veterans, and longer-term veterans with STEM bachelor’s degrees. All are attracted to the PSM for its promise of providing the foundation for management and leadership roles in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) enterprises.
  3. Who employs PSM graduates? Private high-tech industries, not-for-profit organizations, and government agencies, which need employees with a deep understanding of some STEM area plus the ability to interface with other specialists (e.g., intellectual property lawyers, regulatory affairs professionals, and financial analysts). Eventually, PSM graduates are able to provide executive management and leadership for the enterprise.
  4. Where did PSM programs originate? The first university PSM programs were originated in the mid-1990s, with seed-funding from the Alfred P. Sloan and Keck Foundations.
  5. Where can one find PSM programs now?
    As of June 2012, there are approximately 260 programs housed in 120 universities, 80 of them supported by system wide or state wide administrations. Click here.
  6. Are PSM programs growing in number? There are indications that the number of PSM programs will roughly double in the next several years. Some estimates suggest a number of about 1000 nationally in the long-term.
  7. What kinds of universities can offer PSM programs? Any university with strong science faculty and access (either internally or with cooperating institutions) to the necessary “plus” courses.
  8. Which universities now offer PSM programs? Research and Master’s focused universities are both represented among the campuses offering the PSM. See the Web address above.
  9. What are “system-wide PSM adoptions”? These are efforts by system (or state-wide) leaders to coordinate the launch of multiple PSMs on multiple campuses, all in the same time frame. Early system-wides are the CSU, SUNY, University of Illinois, and University of North Carolina (system); State-wides are Oregon and Florida.
  10. What are the barriers to adopting PSM programs by systems? Research universities are sometimes nervous about master’s candidates draining faculty time and funding from their PhD students. Successful PSMs at research universities solve this problem by having dedicated admissions programs for PSMs and by pointing out to faculty that PSM students pay full tuition for their two-year program.
  11. Is there a standard template for a PSM program? There is no formal accreditation, but there are “conditions of affiliation” required to use the PSM logo. See
    www.sciencemasters.com or email psmoffice@sciencemasters.com. But wide variety is encouraged in the design, most especially of the “plus courses”.
  12. What role do potential employers of PSM graduates play in a PSM program? They are intrinsic and integral! All PSM programs are developed with the needs of a particular employer clientele in mind, and that usually involves the engagement from the outset of employer representatives in the design and implementation of the program curriculum. Typically, PSM programs require students to serve internships with potential employers. Sometimes, employers’ staffs participate (part time) in teaching in the program.
  13. What sciences are the basis of PSM programs? Many, and perhaps most, PSM programs are based on a very interdisciplinary core. This reflects the fact that the STEM industry does not mirror the strict disciplinary organization of a typical university. Having said that, the four most common areas of current PSM programs are: Biology/Biotechnology; Computational Molecular Biology/Bioinformatics; Environmental Sciences; Mathematics/Statistics. New programs are coming on line in forensic chemistry, GIS, clinical trials management, energy, and nanotechnology.
  14. Who pays for PSM students? This is an unresolved question. While some faculty believe that PSM students, like all other graduate science students, should have their way paid via scholarships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships, most PSM students are now obliged to pay their own tuition, offsetting this with on-campus jobs they find themselves and their paid internships. Working professionals are subsidized by their employer once the employer approves their program. The new GI Bill will cover veterans’ (and/or their dependents’) tuition up to that of the most expensive state university in the state where the veteran enrolls.
  15. How does a system administration take the first steps toward exploring the PSM as a multi-campus option? Explore this web site and when ready to have a PSM representative visit your system, contact someone on the NPSMA consultant list. The National Professional Science Master’s Association (NPSMA) has a very useful Web site at www.npsma.org. Don Langenberg and Sheila Tobias are available by email and phone as advisers.

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