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Masters or PhD?



Hey there! long time reader, first time poster.

I just had a question that I was hoping to get some opinions on from
everyone here. I'm currently an undergrad finishing up my degree in
Geological Sciences, and I'm currently in the process of applying to
graduate schools for Fall 2010 (with the intention of doing vertebrate
paleontology).

Anyways, one of the nagging questions that keeps creeping up as I fill
out these applications is what type of degree I should do. Now let me
say this straight off, I fully intend to get a PhD, and I fully intend
to be working in an academic setting, wherever that leads me. I'm just
stuck on whether or not I want to go into a Master's program, and THEN
a PhD program.... or go directly into a PhD program. Any opinions?

I'm currently attending a university in Canada, and at said university
it's basically the norm to do a Master's and then a PhD (in fact, I
don't think they even offer a "straight to PhD" program in my
department). But many of the schools I'm applying to in the U.S.
offer, and for the most part, encourage you to enter directly into a
PhD program. Does entering directly into a PhD program hurt me in any
way? Will not having a masters degree affect my chances in any way of
getting a job in the future? Will I be looked down upon by other
professionals in the field who may feel I didn't do as much work? Or
does the PhD speak for itself? Sorry if some of these questions sound
silly, but I really don't know and the decision I make plays a big
part in the rest of my life.

Many of the professionals in the field whom I currently look up to
(and am considering for as supervisors) have both Master's and PhD
degrees... but then again I'm not sure if that's just because back
when they received their degrees, it was the norm to do both and not
the exception.

Thanks!

--
Matt Demski
Geological Sciences
Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada