Professionally oriented master's

Patrick S. Osmer — February 28, 2011

Pat Osmer

This message to the graduate faculty is about professionally oriented master’s programs.

I have several outcomes in mind: to stimulate creative thinking about such programs and to host face-to-face forums or workshops for faculty on this topic. The ultimate goal is the development of new professionally oriented master’s programs where appropriate. The Graduate School is here to serve as a resource in this effort.

I believe professionally oriented master’s programs provide important opportunities for graduate education at Ohio State for several reasons:

  • Professionally oriented master’s programs are, as I wrote in my last post, the fastest growing segment of graduate education
  • These programs provide the most direct connection to improving the economy of the state because they develop a highly skilled workforce that meets the needs of Ohio employers
  • Because master’s graduates are more likely to stay in the state in which they earn their degrees, more of this Ohio State-trained talent will remain in Ohio
  • And, such programs have the potential to generate resources that can benefit the broader goals of the department or college

Here are a few working definitions: By professionally oriented master’s programs, I mean master’s programs that give students an opportunity to obtain specialized content knowledge and the interdisciplinary professional skills they need to succeed in today’s work environments. This dual focus differentiates the professionally oriented mas­ter’s from the general master’s of arts or master’s of science degrees. The traditional view of the MA and MS is that they expose the student to increasingly specialized content and research skills. These degrees are typically regarded as stepping stones to the Ph.D., where the student develops into an independent researcher.

At Ohio State, we already have many master’s programs that fall into the professionally oriented category. Many of these degrees, like the Master of Education (M.Ed.), Master of Business Administration (MBA), and Master of Social Work (MSW) are long-standing. They also are widely understood by the public as being a necessary and sought-after credential for practicing professionals in teaching, business, and social work. Others are new and respond to more recent developments or needs.

Here is a list of professionally oriented master’s programs at Ohio State. It includes a few that are currently in the proposal process.


If you are aware of others that you believe ought to be here, please let me know. I included the links so that you can see how these programs are similar to and different from one another. I hope your browsing spurs you to think about the possibilities in your discipline or across disciplines. For instance, I believe that professionally oriented master’s apply more broadly in the arts and sciences than might be expected from looking at this list. I’d like to hear from my colleagues in the humanities, arts, and social sciences about what professionally oriented master’s programs might look there.

Some of you may be familiar with a type of professionally oriented master’s degree called the Professional Science Master’s (or PSM). PSMs are also nicknamed “Science Plus” degrees, and they are typically developed with government and industry partners. The signature feature of PSMs is how they combine rigorous studies in science or mathematics with training in interdisciplinary skills needed to succeed in the workplace. They respond to complaints that graduates of traditional master’s programs in the sciences had the advanced knowledge needed by employers but were not able to communicate and work effectively with people outside their field of expertise, a serious deficiency in today’s team-oriented and rapidly changing workplace.

The following seven interdisciplinary skills, as described by the National Professional Science Master’s Association, are typically featured in PSM degree programs:

PSMs are but one option in a full range of professionally oriented master’s programs, but I believe they can be useful to us at Ohio State as a model because of the interdisciplinary skills that are integral to them. These skills are woven into the degree requirements, which include internships and joint projects carried out with employer/industry partners, and they make PSM degrees extremely attractive to students and employers. Furthermore, employers are expected to serve on the advisory boards of the programs. This strengthens the links between employers and the programs and is, I think, very much in the tradition of a land-grant university.

What I find interesting is that these skills are generalizable to the broad spectrum of professionally oriented master’s programs—and even to doctoral programs. These are not skills that only people in “business” use. Surely we want all of our graduates to be able to write and speak effectively and to be able to work effectively with people outside their area of specialization. These skills are generalizable to just about any career—in academia, nonprofits, government, industry—that Ohio State alumni with master’s or doctoral degrees would want to pursue.

Some of these competencies are already being taught in existing programs at Ohio State. Rather than each graduate program or college developing their own versions, programs interested in pursuing this approach should work together to share existing and new courses. The Graduate School is happy to act as a general facilitator for such coordination.

I recognize that some of our graduate programs have deemphasized their MA and MS degrees. Many times, this decision is sound because the gradu­ate program has set priorities that focus its time and resources elsewhere, such as on its doctoral program. What isn’t appropriate, though, is for any of us to regard an MA or MS as a “consolation prize,” a phrase that I’ve heard used to describe master’s degrees that are awarded to students who cannot complete their doctoral programs. I believe we can all agree that no graduate degree should be a consolation prize, and I’d like us to retire that phrase and way of thinking.

All of our programs, master’s and doctoral alike, need to be strong and distinctive enough to stand on their own merits. Such master’s programs, including professionally oriented ones like those described above, could also help us address our doctoral program attrition problems. They could be important “off-ramps” for students who are not going on to the Ph.D. 

My goal, as dean of the Graduate School, is to help you develop new professionally oriented master’s programs and to improve or refine existing ones. We have joined the National Professional Science Master’s Association and regularly receive information about best practices in this area during Council of Graduate Schools meetings. We can point you to resources, talk through possibilities and challenges, and help facilitate the approval process. We are also available to meet with colleges and departments in addition to the forums that we are planning.

What are your ideas? I look forward to hearing about them here and during the face-to-face forums that we are planning.



Patrick S. Osmer is vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School at Ohio State. He is also currently serving as chair of the board of directors for the Council of Graduate Schools. Osmer was chair of the Ohio State astronomy department from 1993-2006.


Showing comments 1 to 10 of 44 | Next | Last
ken lee
food innovation
Mon February 28, 2011, 16:41:19
Food is Ohio's largest manufacturing industry and employs our graduates at all degree levels, including MS. If the new Food Innovation Center can be of help here we are open to that discussion. Some of the interdisciplinary aspects to the PSMs are current practice within the food fields. Perhaps the next step is to engage the industry and the innovation center faculty in some brainstorming. Your thoughts welcome.
Susan Petry
Tue March 01, 2011, 00:42:34
Thank you Dean Osmer,

I see you have "MFA" on your list of professional degrees; however the link leads to the Department of Art only. There are also MFA degree programs in Dance, and I believe in Design, (I see Creative Writing and Theatre have been added since my first view). On your data sources that might have been used to compile this list, can these nuances of the MFA be included? Thanks.
Dance and Design added
Tue March 01, 2011, 14:09:20
Thanks for pointing out the omissions, Susan. I've added Dance and Design to Pat's message above.
Darcy Haag Granello
Counselor Education
Fri March 04, 2011, 09:40:18
Although it is technically an M.A. degree. the master's degree in counselor education leads to licensure as a school or clinical mental health counselor in Ohio. Mental health and school counselors require the master's degree to get licensed and to practice. There is a Ph.D. program associated with this degree, but it is only for people who wish to become professors and is not related to professional licensure. The degree is offered through the college of education. Almost all of our M.A. graduates get licensed and practice in the State of Ohio.
James M. Unger
PSM and Advanced Foreign Language
Sat March 05, 2011, 11:16:51
Few professional Americans can communicate except in English and many are clumsy at or resistant to adapting to non-U.S. cultural expectations. Also, for some STEM work, it may be hard to find native foreign-language speakers with sufficiently high-level English skills, the requisite STEM knowledge, and/or a security clearance.

More than a year ago, I went to a "town hall" meeting in Engineering about this problem. I suggested that, since it is almost impossible for traditional STEM MS programs to make time for advanced second-language learning, STEM departments ought to recruit BAs and MAs with advanced foreign language skills and an interest in a STEM field into new programs that impart "just enough" STEM expertise to enable graduates to serve as international liaisons, translators, and monitors of foreign innovation for government and industry.

Such programs belong conceptually to the category of non-traditional STEM masters programs, but would differ in content from "science plus" programs that tack things corporations want on to traditional MS programs. Instead of a course like "Chinese for Scientists and Engineers," might we not envision a program like "STEM for Students Prepared to Work with Chinese Speakers"?
leah white
Master's but no PhD
Mon March 07, 2011, 08:27:04
I am an employee here at OSU and already have my Masters- although I can get another Masters in another area though one of these programs, I would rather work towards my PhD. I have contacted many departments and have discovered it is nearly impossible to get a PhD and work here at OSU. Is the graduate school going to look at opening up some PhD programs to those of us who can only attend part time?
Robert Meier
There is a need for this focus
Mon March 07, 2011, 11:49:14
Many other colleges and universities have already begun focusing on these types of degrees. OSU has long relied on a steady stream of traditional students but as the job markets change and new skills become the necessary, OSU would be well served to make sure we are meeting this challenge. It will require an understanding of the needs of working professionals which are different than the needs of most 22-25 years olds seeking a graduate degree. But, if we want to live up to how our leadership is selling our contribution to Ohio's future, these programs will go a long way toward restoring Ohio's position as a good place to live, work and raise families.
Sunny Zong
PSM with superior Chinese skills
Mon March 07, 2011, 13:59:46
Prof. Unger mentioned the possibility of "STEM for students prepared to work with Chinese speakers". I am quite with it. Actually, one of the tracks in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures (DEALL) is Advanced Language and Culture, normally known as Chinese Flagship. The program goal is to train young Americans become global professionals with a superior level of Mandarin Chinese. Although the program is sitting in DEALL, it requires all the students to choose an academic discipline or occupational area as a research focus in addition to Chinese language and culture. Students are trained in the kills to interact with Chinese professionals and the knowledge in the field chosen, followed by a year-long overseas immersion with a well structured combination of internship, direct enrollment and individualized mentoring which provides them in-depth knowledge and practice in the real working environment. The facts told us graduates with this unique interdisciplinary, language and content knowledge training are highly demanded.
The Chinese Flagship at DEALL also involved in the foreign language policy design for the State of Ohio and developed the China Strategy, in the hope to provide more professional with foreign language skills in a global professional environment.
Garren Cabral
Professional Master's In Communications & Psychology
Mon March 07, 2011, 14:47:42
I think it would be good for Ohio State to add a professional master programs for communication and psychology. Ohio State's communication program, though good, is not very applicable unless you want to be a professor (also with psychology as well which too is a very good psychology program). I would love to see an industrial/organizational psychology program too. I think the Graduate School should also focus on pairing degrees together more so that students can get more bang for their buck. Last, these professional programs need to accommodate for "professionals", and offer night courses so that working students can go part-time without giving up their job.
Lori Fireman
Professional Master's in Communication
Tue March 08, 2011, 12:35:32
Dear Dean Osmer,

I am glad to see that graduate programs geared to professionals are being developed. I too am interested in working toward a "Professional" Master's in Communication, but my impression of the program is the same as Garren's - a stepping stone toward a Ph.D.

I also agree that masters programs geared to professionals should accommodate their work schedules.

Lori Fireman

Write a comment

  • Required fields are marked with *.

If you have trouble reading the code, click on the code itself to generate a new random code.

Recent Posts

Need help?

Contact staff members in the Graduate School using the staff directory, or call (614) 292-6031.

Follow us

Facebook Facebook
Twitter Twitter