Lollipops and Island Dreams

Dear Doctor Ninja,

I’m planning to continue my studies with a Master’s degree.

I really like to keep up with the latest research and I would love to contribute to my field as a researcher. I’m having trouble deciding which degree to pursue, if I should strive for a MSc within my field, or one in Research Methods. What should I base my decision on?

Is a coin flip ok?

PS: I hope it is not a very specific question.


Fiddy Fiddy

I really wish you had been more specific. But I’ll give you the best answer I can.

You don’t mention whether the kind of Masters you’re looking to pursue is a course-based program or a thesis-based program. A course-based Masters in Research Methods is actually quite abstract, since you’re not really doing as much design work. It’s like going to art school and learning about all the _things_ you need to use to draw, or sculpt, but never actually drawing or sculpting. A thesis-based Masters is going to have more practical components, but you can’t study Research Methods in a vacuum—they need to be applied to a field of some kind. In a thesis-based non-Research-Methods program, you can still learn a lot about Research Methods, depending on who your supervisor is, and what kinds of courses you take. It’s not really an either/or decision.

A coin flip is either totally okay, or not okay at all. If the coin flip reflects your overall ambivalence to either pathway, I would want to encourage you to do some soul searching as to why you want to do a Masters in the first place. While it is only 2 years of your life (hopefully, if you finish on time; and completion time IS important), every graduate student experiences “the dark times” in their degree where the original reason for going in the first place is what gets them through. If however, you feel some sort of strong pull that feels equal in both pathways, and see yourself equally “happy” (is there really such a thing in graduate school?) in both scenarios where you have convictions that will get you through those times that you just have to grit your teeth and push through, then flipping a coin is as good as any way to make this decision.


This question also sounds like these are pathways you are simply contemplating at this time. Both options are just potential pathways, not real ones. If you have two offers in your hands, that’s a different story. If you haven’t applied to either programs, then you are making a decision between two equally unreal outcomes. It’s like deciding whether you’d like to have a bag of lollipops or a small tropical island. If you don’t have either of them at your disposal, then you’re just making a decision about which one sounds better to you today. If, however, there’s a bag of lollipops and a deed to a small tropical island in front of you and you are in some sort of odd game show where you have to choose one, then go for the one that has now become more attractive, or flip that coin.

In short, you don’t need to make this decision today, because one or (and hopefully this isn’t the case) both of these options might not actually be available to you. If both options are available to you in a concrete kind of way, THEN, you may find that when things get really real, that you see the choices differently.

You can date both options at once until one becomes more attractive than the other—either because you get to choose between them, or because one dumps you first.

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