October 25, 2011 6:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I find a masters degree program in the environmental/biological sciences that doesn't require a BS and will match my interests?

I have a BA with my major in cultural anthropology, but have found my passion in working with plants.

I've been working professionally in horticulture for the last 7 years. I currently work at a botanic garden and love it, however without a related degree I can't really move up in the organization. I'm currently taking classes in the evening, core stuff: bio, botany, chemistry, statistics. . . trying to get on track for the next phase.

I want to expand my options professionally and find a position where I am more engaged intellectually.

All the masters programs I find that are interdisciplinary, ie don't require science undergrad, seem to be geared towards government or business(policy and management). The others require a BS and are geared towards academia. Neither of these paths seem right for me. Is this a reflection of the prospects out there- or is there a third option?

Basically, I'm still figuring out the specifics of my end goal, but I want to be ready to take the next step when the time comes.

What's the best way to go about this search?

Specific programs you've heard about?

posted by abirdinthehand to Education (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to anyone at the university yet?

My university recommends that you have a faculty sponsor before you apply to graduate school. Hit the university's website and find out if there's anyone there who's doing research that you're interested in. Then contact that faculty member and find out if you're personally compatible.

Doing your BA shows that you're smart enough to be admitted to a master's program. Doing the additional work will give you the background that the faculty member will require.

But prioritize the bit where you're figuring out your "end goal" as a master's will take you towards policy or academia. Maybe you don't need a master's to get you to where you would like to go?
posted by wenat at 7:34 PM on October 25, 2011

I got into both my MSc (immunology/lab medicine) and my PhD (molecular neuroscience) programs through "backdoors" (albeit I had a very strong molecular/cell bio/biochem background [grant funded research for two summers, and paid research for four-ish "semesters"] in addition to a BA in philosophy, and worked for a couple of years doing molecular stuff with a startup).

As long as a principal investigator (PI) wants you in their lab, the program will generally let you in.

Also, the program might state on their generic webpage that they "require" a BSc, but that is definitely not a hard requirement. Also, BSc "requiring" programs only tend to be geared towards academia. A lot of botany/forestry* "hard" science grad programs certainly have non-academic, practical applications. You'll also have the opportunity to volunteer (or even paid part-time positions) for public education programs, which could definitely be directly applicable to a career in running botanical gardens.

Now, the rest of your question is a *lot* harder to answer. Do you have a particular research interest? Have you heard about anybody doing research that you're interested in? Search out the people who are doing research that you're interested in. Cold call these people. Speak with them about their interests and your interests. Offer to volunteer in their labs if they're local (or you can move out to where they are).

Worse case scenario, they don't reply. Moderate case scenario, they can put you in touch with someone else who's doing stuff you're interested in (and might have the funds to fund a grad student). Best case scenario, they invite you in to see the lab and possibly offer you a grad student position.

You'll really want to be interested in your research topic or your MSc is going to feel like its lasting an eternity.

Go to the university web space for local/places you wouldn't mind being for the botany, zoology, forestry, whatever departments and troll through the faculty pages - there should be summaries of the professor's current research interests. If nothing else, it'll give you an idea of what people are interested (and can get funding for) in researching.

*forestry is a bit of a catch-all term
posted by porpoise at 7:53 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

What do you want to do? Are you interested in large scale horticulture, ecological restoration, rare plant cultivation, agriculture, landscape architecture, biomedical.... ??? You need to narrow it down a bit more. With your kind of background I think you could get into any of these fields, barring biomedical research, if you pitch it right.
posted by fshgrl at 9:30 PM on October 25, 2011

Also look for your states Land Grant university. They will have the lions share of funding for horticultural research and do mostly applied stuff (which it sounds like you'd be interested in).
posted by fshgrl at 9:31 PM on October 25, 2011

I have a BA in mathematics, and I'm in a marine science graduate program. Talk to people that you want as advisors. Also, as others have mentioned, funding is also important so keep an eye out for that.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:32 AM on October 27, 2011

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