M.A. or M.S.?
March 6, 2008 7:56 PM   Subscribe

M.A. or M.S.? I'm getting a Master's in Politics and hoping to teach in a university someday. Which should I get? Does it matter?

(this question is written on behalf of GilloD's wife, by the way.)

I'll be graduating from Illinois State with a degree in Politics & Gov't as a member of the Master's International Program--where I do a year of study and then Peace Corps and whoop-de-doo, I've got a Master's Degree. Anyway, I'm reviewing my plan of study and now have to decide if I want an M.A. or an M.S. in Politics.

I graduated from college with a degree in Philosophy & Human Rights, so I always assumed I'd get an M.A. However, I just found out, that our university has a four-semester foreign language requirement for any M.A.s, and I only took three in college. (What a jip, I studied in the freakin' Czech Republic for a year and all I get is six credits of grammar.) I could probably get the last 2 credits for the requirement approved as part of my Peace Corps training--assuming/hoping we're in a country that speaks something other than English--but that could end up being a little too bureaucratic for my blood.

I am hoping to get a Ph.D. following Peace Corps and teach in a university, and I've heard that that suggests that I should go for it and get an M.A.

So, the question is, is it worth it? Who cares? What's the difference between an M.A. and an M.S.?
posted by GilloD to Education (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you're going for the Ph.D. (which you'll need to teach), you need the language anyway. Go for the M.A.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:05 PM on March 6, 2008


In general, the M.S. is for people who are stopping with a masters and going to work, and the M.A. is for people who want to go on to a Ph.D. The extra language credits will help you get into a doctoral program. In fact, it might be pretty hard without it. Get the M.A.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:11 PM on March 6, 2008


What's the difference? Ask whoever the DGS is at Illinois State. Maybe the difference is that you need to pass stats to get an MS. Maybe there's no difference. Maybe one is the thesis and one is comps.

Which? Nobody cares. If MS means you had to pass stats, MS is marginally better.

Generally it's better to just go straight to a PhD program, since that wastes less of your time. About the only time a master's in political science is academically useful is if your undergraduate credentials are, well, lacking in one way or another that doesn't reflect your true ability and you need to show you can do graduate work before decent PhD programs will look at you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:21 PM on March 6, 2008


If you're going for the Ph.D. (which you'll need to teach), you need the language anyway.

Someone should tell all of the graduate programs I've been involved with one way or another, because none of them required a foreign language.

The extra language credits will help you get into a doctoral program.

If and only if they are particularly relevant to your suggested program of study. If you plan to study ancient Greek philosophy or voting patterns among American evangelicals, I assure you that nobody will care in the slightest about credits in Czech or Tagalog or whatever.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:29 PM on March 6, 2008


Um, for nearly every Ph.D. program that I've come across (I'm currently a college senior in the midst of investigating my graduate options), you need to have fulfilled the requirements for a M.A., hence you need a language.
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:05 PM on March 6, 2008


(This assumes that as the OP says, they're doing the M.A. and the Ph.D. seperately and not in the usual 5-7 year haul.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:06 PM on March 6, 2008


You need the foreign language to get the Ph.D. at a good program. It rounds you out and can help in research at all times. I'd pick German.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 PM on March 6, 2008


Datapoint - in Australia it wouldn't matter
posted by bystander at 3:19 AM on March 7, 2008


Um, for nearly every Ph.D. program that I've come across (I'm currently a college senior in the midst of investigating my graduate options), you need to have fulfilled the requirements for a M.A., hence you need a language.

In real life, you can't really do an MA and PhD separately, at least not in political science. You can't show up with an MA and be treated the same as a student who has earned a nonterminal MA in that program. This is the big reason I said earlier that the only good academic use for a terminal master's in polisci is to brush up your record.

Any good program will insist that you repeat almost all your coursework under their professors, take their comprehensive exams even if you've passed comps already, and so on. About the best you can get is somewhat more flexibility about your new courses because you'll get some credit for something -- often introductory methodology and research design courses.

And again, you won't need a foreign language to get into a good program. If a particular foreign language is relevant to your plan of study, then it's good. Otherwise, it's as useless as being captain of the lacrosse team.

PhD programs do not care how rounded-out you are. They do not particularly want you rounded-out and a complete person. They want monomaniacal focus and rapid specialization; they want you to be a particular kind of broken.

Except for fieldwork, foreign languages are of very little value in political science since nearly all modern work is conducted in English, so it won't help you with research apart from doing fieldwork. And the field is new enough that there is essentially zero nonmodern work except in political philosophy, which you should not touch unless you are freakishly brilliant because the job market in that subfield is as bad as literature or history.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:10 AM on March 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I second absolutely everything ROU_Xenophobe said. Xeno hit the nail on the head.

Furthermore, I can offer a little insight since I am currently a political science Ph.D. student. In my program, only PhD students looking fielding in political theory have a language requirement. All other fields (IR, Comparative, Methods, American) have no language requirements.

And just for the record, I do not have an MA. I came straight from undergrad (which has numerous costs/benefits in and of itself, but thats another story).
posted by chrisalbon at 9:28 AM on March 7, 2008


And just one more comment.

In political science R1 programs (top tier research universities), getting a solid handle on statistics is infinitely more valuable than learning a language. Read any article in the APSR (American Political Science Review) and you will instantly see why.
posted by chrisalbon at 9:34 AM on March 7, 2008


I was a student participant on a political science faculty hiring committee at a US university, and I can verify that candidates who didn't have a foreign language were not taken very seriously -- I mean, they weren't automatically out of the running, but certainly none of them got interviews. This is partly because the better programs require a foreign language and the less impressive programs don't (at least from the perspective of our status-conscious, middling-to-good department).

Political science as a discipline is pretty suspicious of single-case, resolutely noncomparative research agendas, so even if you're an Americanist it's good to have at least a dabbling interest in other cases and literatures. It's also a fact that faculty get hired to support students' research, not just to conduct their own -- so a monoglot candidate is at a disadvantage here, too.
posted by gum at 4:10 PM on March 7, 2008


I was a student participant on a political science faculty hiring committee at a US university, and I can verify that candidates who didn't have a foreign language were not taken very seriously -- I mean, they weren't automatically out of the running, but certainly none of them got interviews

While I don't particularly doubt that this happened at whatever school this was, or at least that their lack of foreign languages is how the committee's decision not to interview somebody was explained to you, this is false in the larger sense.

I have been a voting member on somewhere around ten political science search committees, been to job talks, and approved the selection of another at least ten, and served on at least a few more as a student rep. I have never, ever, even once heard someone's ability with foreign languages come up. Ever. I have been on lots of interviews myself, and nobody has ever, even once, asked me if I know any other foreign languages. As you might guess, I have lots of friends who also do political science. None of them have ever described foreign language ability as something that is remotely important in and of itself.

It's of course possible that a particular language might be important to someone's research agenda -- ie, Russian for someone selling themselves as a post-Soviet expert, or Attic Greek for someone claiming to be an expert on Plato and Aristotle. In these special cases, an inability to understand the relevant language might be a real handicap, but those are special cases. Even many comparativists do not sell themselves as experts in any particular area.

This is partly because the better programs require a foreign language and the less impressive programs don't (at least from the perspective of our status-conscious, middling-to-good department).

This is false. I received my PhD from an at least top-20 program -- there are no actual rankings but this seems conservative -- and did not have a foreign language requirement. UCDavis, where chrisalbon is, is likewise a very highly rated program and he states that it does not have a language requirement.

Political science as a discipline is pretty suspicious of single-case, resolutely noncomparative research agendas, so even if you're an Americanist it's good to have at least a dabbling interest in other cases and literatures.

This is false. At most, being somebody that the comparativists can play with too might break a tie. In general, you are better served by actually specializing in your specialty.

It's also a fact that faculty get hired to support students' research, not just to conduct their own -- so a monoglot candidate is at a disadvantage here, too.

This statement is about 100% completely backwards, except maybe at SLACs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:47 PM on March 8, 2008


Great. I just wanted to thank everyone for also guessing (somehow) that I'll be going into political theory and that I'm doing my thesis on the spatial politics involving, primarily, the Berlin Wall... I know what a handicap it is to be unfamiliar with the language for my own research--aside from the fact that German (and French, really) are fairly essential for any more-than-skeletal understanding of most of the Continental philosophers. So. I'm hoping to end up somewhere like Cote d'Ivoire, which would force me to brush up on the French and take an occasional tan by the gorgeous beaches--because that's what they do in the Peace Corps, right? Right?

Anyway, thanks for the help. Even if I didn't want to get the language, it sounds like I'll need the M.A., so I'm going to try to continue language courses for now and hope that we'll end up in the Peace Corps in a place where we can become proficient in another (hopefully useful) language. (I always say that it's terrible that the Germans lost the first World War and that they didn't get to keep their colonies--now, in places like Tanzania and Cameroon, they all speak French or English. Sigh.)

Just a note from my own perspectives--at Illinois and at Juniata, where I went for undergraduate, both times each school was hiring, they were looking for multicultural staff, which seems to be trendy or something. The more international a candidate, the more attractive they seemed to be. I'd like to work in a school where those sorts of requirements are the norm, anyway.
posted by GilloD at 6:47 PM on March 11, 2008


I'll be going into political theory

Advice you didn't ask for: Unless you get back from the Peace Corps stuff and all of the ivies and Toronto and Chicago and Duke and all the other excellent theory shops are all beating down your door to give you money to get your phd from them, go and do something else. Political philosophy has far and away the worst job market in political science. As bad as English. Zillions of applications for every job and award-winners from the best programs with letters of recommendation from all of the Trinity have trouble getting placed. It brings new meaning to solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:15 PM on March 12, 2008


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