Is pursuing a MSc in Environmental Sustainability a bad idea?
June 22, 2019 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I originally wanted to do a MA in English Literature/MFA Creative Writing, but the career prospects are grim. (Planning on doing an MA in Political Science next year). I am wondering if pursuing an MSc in Environmental Sustainability would be a good idea career-wise? (For a second Masters?).

The problem is that I do not have a a background in Biology (only a few courses in statistics and economics). I am going to graduate school for Political Science with a specialization in Environmental Studies (also keen on environmental politics). But I would like to pursue the MSc Environmental Sustainability after Political Science. What worries me is that it's not really designed for career work, but chiefly professional skills? There is still a critical science component to the degree--it's just that it's not solely focused on Biology/Hard Science courses for the most part. I am able to do an internship with my MA Political Science (with an environmental organisation). For the MSC, there is a co-op component as well as a capstone research project with an organization which seems pretty neat. Has anyone had any experience with degrees in Environmental Sustainability or Environmental Studies?
posted by RearWindow to Education (14 answers total)
It would be helpful to understand what your career goals are. Usually multiple graduate degrees are not required. Why are you doing the MA Political Science? And if it's not what you intend to do, why do you think it's still the best option for next year?
posted by plonkee at 12:45 PM on June 22 [6 favorites]

Look at the degree +0 and degree + 2/3 year career stats for the program. Some degrees will have strong government / NGO / corporate placement power, others will be worth about framing a Pizza Hut menu.

You do know that a terminal MA in political science has zero career entry value, I hope. Can potentially buff your law school application and lots of people who are in jobs where there’s a “get a masters, any masters will do” raise or promotion bar can find it suits their purposes.
posted by MattD at 12:49 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]

@plonkee Hi. I really like environmental politics, and it comes with a four month internship, as I do not have a whole lot of professional work experience, plus it's at University of Toronto, so the name might help. It's the only option since I did not have enough Political Science courses to apply -- I had to take some extra courses in order to apply for the MA.
posted by RearWindow at 12:52 PM on June 22

TBH I think you would miss out on the benefits of the internship by going straight into another masters. I'd be expecting someone to use the internship to help them get a full-time job (which might be slightly adjacent to your ideal first job). A second masters might make more sense later when you have enough work experience to know which direction you want to take. But could equally be redundant.
posted by plonkee at 1:33 PM on June 22 [9 favorites]

If you want to work in environmental politics you need a technical background AND significant work experience in a technical field or you are just taking up space with all the other people with no real insight into the issues. Signed: someone who is constantly being asked to give input to people in influence / wanting influence with no actual working knowledge of the subject they want to influence.

If you want to do outreach or something like that go for it. But please do not skip directly to policy work without doing actual work. That is the major problem with how legislation is developed today.
posted by fshgrl at 2:14 PM on June 22 [9 favorites]

I mean, would they even let you in to a science programme when you had no background in science? You probably don't live where I live but here, it wouldn't happen. You'd need a BSc. I know you say it's not much science but it's still some, and it's an MSc.
posted by BeeJiddy at 2:19 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]

@BeeJiddy - Yes, I am allowed in the programme -- Bachelor of Arts are accepted.
posted by RearWindow at 2:52 PM on June 22

It's not entirely clear what your career goals are, which makes this question difficult to answer. It sounds like the MSc in Environmental Sustainability is a hybrid policy/"soft" science degree which might place you in a no-man's land when it comes to employment in environmental politics. Read fshgrl's answer several times because she's right on the mark. Degrees like this often make more sense for someone who has a hard science undergrad and related work experience, but needs more policy-related bona fides to transition away from a bench science career.

An MA in poli sci is usually not a super useful degree, but the combination of being in Canada (where terminal MAs have a slightly different context than they do in the US), having a co-op option, and the UofT name on your diploma changes the calculus a bit. Having a co-op term will be really helpful in the Toronto job market, but as phlonkee said upthread, you'll lose a lot of the benefits of that introduction to the labour market if you plan on getting a second masters right away. The fact that you needed to take a number of poli sci courses to be admissible to UofT's MA program does make me wonder, though, if you have a strong sense of what you're getting into.

Specializations in MA programs often don't provide enough relevant coursework on their own to be a launchpad for a career in a niche field; much like the MSc in Environmental Science, you'll probably find that a number of your cohort-mates in the specialization are folks with science backgrounds. If you haven't already done so, really try to get some informational interviews with people working in the kinds of jobs that sound interesting to you, or relatively recent grads of the program(s) you're considering.

Although you didn't ask about this directly, I have a strong suspicion that one of the college graduate certificate programs in government relations or public admin may suit you more than an MA/MSc in a policy-related field at this time. They usually include a co-op placement, and they'll set you up for advocacy or junior policy-related job experience than can help inform what you might really want to get a graduate degree in down the line.
posted by blerghamot at 2:54 PM on June 22 [5 favorites]

It's too bad that your MeFi Mail is disabled, because I could provide a bit more anecdotal information on one of the programs you just mentioned...
posted by blerghamot at 3:30 PM on June 22

@blerghamot - I just fixed it and sent a message. Hopefully it works!
posted by RearWindow at 3:36 PM on June 22

[Hey RearWindow, we request that askers don't respond to every comment but instead only answer when further information is needed.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:07 PM on June 22

If you want to work in a technical role, then it'd be good to have (or really, a Ph.D. would be better). But environmental politics? Your existing policy masters plus relevant work experience and a couple classes would likely be sufficient. A public policy degree with that specialization, plus an internship, should be enough to get your foot in the door -- so much is about whom you know.

I respect fshgrl's comment, but as she points out, there are a bunch of people working in the field who don't meet that criteria. If I think about the people who have real insight, maybe half to 2/3 got it through formal schooling, (which is just as often law school as it is environmental science), but a whole bunch just got really interested in the research or policy details and/or specialized early on. I don't think schooling necessarily gives you the details you need, and it takes time away from the work experience through which you get those details as well as the important knowledge of how things get done. Plus adds to your debt.
posted by salvia at 5:25 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]

Your question reminded me of your previous asks about pursuing different degrees. Here, you're asking if pursuing this particular degree would be a "bad idea." That depends. I honestly think having a bunch of degrees under one's belt but little work experience outside of academia challenging. I feel like what you might need is a mentor who can sit down with you and hash out your goals and come up with a purpose. See what you value in life. Life-long learning is great. But judging from your previous asks it's not clear why you continue to pursue master's degrees in seemingly unrelated fields to what end? It will be confusing to a future employer why you have many disparate degrees unless you have a clear purpose in mind about how they've intersected.
posted by jj's.mama at 3:41 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]

Perhaps you should really approach all these questions from the other side.

What is that you (think you) want to do with your career in 5-10 years time? Look at a bunch of people who have those jobs now. What experience and education do they have? Are there any common threads? What entry level roles did they have. Find people that have those entry level jobs now. How did they get them? Are there any common threads.

My experience is in a different location. Where I am having a masters degree in a relevant subject could help get you in the door to a policy position. Having more than one will not help but probably won't hinder (the first one will be assumed to be something you used to do but don't any more). Having three in quick succession starts to look like you're more interested in being a perpetual student than a viable job candidate.
posted by plonkee at 8:15 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]

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