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The Black Hole

What does a graduate degree mean?

BY BETH | JUN 22 2010

I was at the recent Canadian Evaluation Society conference where they revealed the process for obtaining their new “credentialed evaluator (C.E.)” designation. In order to become a “C.E.,” one must demonstrate through education and experience that they are qualified as an evaluator.  Since there are few formal educational programs in “evaluation” ((Claremont Graduate University in California seems to be one of the most prominent places to get a degree in evaluation, though more places are starting (or planning) to offer such a thing… but that’s the subject of another posting!)), most evaluators do not have a degree in “evaluation,” but rather are educated in some other field ((e.g., my formal education is in Nutrition, and other evaluators I know have degrees in a wide variety of fields, including Social Work, Psychology, Kinesiology, Criminology, and History, just to name a few)).  Thus, the formal education requirement for the C.E. is that you hold a graduate level degree or certificate.  The reason given for this requirement was that by earning a graduate-level education, one has demonstrated that they are capable of critical thinking, analysis and research.  Despite my advanced skills in research ((;-) )), I’ve been unable to locate any formal source that states what a graduate degree is meant to signifies, so I’m falling back on Wikipedia to give you this:

“A master’s degree is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. Within the area studied, graduates possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics; high order skills in analysis, critical evaluation and/or professional application; and the ability to solve complex problems and think rigorously and independently.” (Source. Emphasis mine)

This got me thinking, yet again, about countless discussions I’ve had with other grad students about what it really should take to get a graduate-level degree.  There seems to be a lot of variation in what it takes to get that “MSc” or “PhD” behind your name.  I’ve seen some Masters students who conducted original research from the initial research idea through all the stages of study design, implementation, data analysis and writing; but I’ve also seen Masters students walk right into an already designed study and really only needed to implement a study protocol that their supervisor created  ((full disclosure: my Master’s program was a 12-month “coursework and a project” Master’s, not a thesis-based Master’s)).  Or those who sent their samples off to another lab for analysis (or have undergraduate minions who do it for them ((I never did figure out where one gets undergraduate minions… they would have made my life so much easier during my PhD!)) and never really learned the ins and outs of the techniques they were supposed to be an “expert” in.

So, I’m curious, what has been your experience?  And if you were hiring someone with a Master’s degree or a PhD, what would you expected of them, based on their holding that degree?

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