For years, master’s degrees in the sciences have mainly been seen as degrees students picked up on their way toward a doctorate or when they left a Ph.D. program. That perception has been shifting with the advent of programs that award terminal master’s degrees. But only a handful of these professional science master’s programs are specific to chemistry. And most are at public universities. Now an Ivy League university is throwing its hat in the ring.
The University of Pennsylvania has rolled out a new Master of Chemical Sciences degree. The program, which is a joint endeavor between Penn’s chemistry department and its College of Liberal & Professional Studies, admitted its first three students this past academic year. The school is now ramping up its outreach efforts, according to Associate Director Ana-Rita Mayol.
Penn launched the program for two reasons. The first is to serve students whose needs aren’t being met by other programs—for example, bachelor’s-level bench chemists who need the master’s degree to advance in their jobs. The department is also courting students who might want to pursue a Ph.D. but lack the credentials needed for admission to a competitive program. The second reason is financial: Students in the Master of Chemical Sciences program pay full tuition and thus provide a new source of funding for the department.
Penn’s Master of Chemical Sciences is designed as a two-year terminal degree. Students take a total of 10 courses and concentrate in one of the traditional chemistry subdisciplines.
The department chose not to design new master’s-level courses. Instead, the master’s students take classes along with Penn’s Ph.D. chemistry students because the department “wants to offer students a technically sound background,” Mayol says. “We offer courses that provide the foundations to ensure that our graduates can practice in the field without having a Ph.D.”
In addition to the chemistry coursework, students take a professional development course and complete a six- to nine-month capstone research project either with a Penn chemistry professor or in an external lab.
The Baruch S. Blumberg Research Institute, an independent research center founded by the Hepatitis B Foundation, is one such organization offering research opportunities to students. “This is a great synergistic partnership that will benefit not just the students and these two institutions but all of us as we work to advance therapies to combat hepatitis B for the millions infected worldwide,” says Timothy M. Block, president of the institute.
The Penn chemistry department is now looking ahead to the next cohort. The 11 incoming master’s students hail from the U.S., China, Taiwan, and Kazakhstan and plan to concentrate in biological, inorganic, and organic chemistry, Mayol says.