Am I Sabotaging Myself By Getting A Masters Instead Of A Phd?

Am I Sabotaging Myself By Getting A Masters Instead Of A Phd?


Hello everyone!

I realize that this question has been asked before and I have read through some of the other threads but I figured I’d see if there are any more perspectives out there. I am currently a research embryologist for a small fertility clinic with a Bsc in molecular biology. I have about 2 1/2 years of experience and have been accepted into an Masters in Bioinformatics program. I am very excited to begin taking classes but l have recently begun second guessing whether I should have tried to get into a PhD program. I will not be able to continue working at my current job while I am in school so I will likely be paying for school with loans unless I’m able to find a job after I relocate.

Those of you who have Masters degrees, would you do it again or go for a PhD? From what I have found searching around the site many people say PhDs are more academically focused while Masters degree holders tend to find more positions in industry. Is concern over the cost of a Masters degree a good reason to consider a PhD instead or do most of you find you were able to offset your education costs with the job you eventually found? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you in advance!



I believe that degrees and coursework are a mere multiplier on the overall effort. To paraphrase Derek Sievers’s Ideas are just a multiplier of execution the degree is just a multiplier for a person’s abilities, determination and effort that they put into their preparation:

Your value in ten years will be VALUE = DEGREE * EFFORT

Here is the breakdown of how that looks

Degree levels
Self Study = 1
Masters Degree = 2
Ph. D. Degree = 3

No Effort = 0
Weak Effort = 1
Average Effort = 10
Systematic Effort = 100

The most common misconception is that people confuse a PhD with the effort that a person puts into their work. Most PhDs do put in more work and that is the reason they get ahead.

Believe it or not, I had a similar dilemma 16 years ago (!!!), when I had finished my Biochemistry and Genetics BSc. and was deciding whether to do a PhD (on a pure biology topic) or make forays into Bioinformatics (and do the Manchester University MSc). In the end, I chose the MSc. After my MSc I then went to work in Industry. I’m now leading a team at the EBI and so I can’t say that not having a PhD has held me back (yet…!).

However, things have changed since the late 90s – there are a lot more graduates with MSc (and PhDs) in Bioinformatics and so there is more competition for jobs in general. There have also been waves of hiring and firing in industry; mini bioinformatics bubbles, if you wish. However, unless something is academic, and specifically post-doc, it’s rare that a PhD is the only thing asked for in a job ad – often adverts will say “or equivalent experience”. So, basically, it’s not clear cut.

As other posters have said, it partly depends on what you want to do afterwards, but it also depends on how much experience you have of doing bioinformatics already. Would you be comfortable leaping straight into a bioinformatics PhD? – are you confident you’d enjoy it for the full 3-5 years (if you’ve never done something like bioinformatics before, you might end up regretting specialising in it when you learn more about it – it’s not for everyone, and some people really miss the lab). If you’re not sure, you could do the Masters and see if it’s for you. Then you have the option of doing a PhD afterwards (if you manage to get funding).

Hope this helps!

I am a PhD working in industry. I work with excellent bioinformaticians from both backgrounds, MSc and PhD. I think the answer depends on what you eventually want to do on a daily basis.

The choice of degree is not just about training; it is a signal to your future employer about the kind of role you prefer. When employers are looking for people to set up projects, lead research teams, and communicate results they will often look first for a person with a PhD. That’s true in both industry and academia. On the other hand, if you prefer the more hands-on aspects of bioinformatics, like writing code and performing statistical analysis, a MSc may be sufficient or even a better route.

That is meant as a guideline, not a rule–I know MSc bioinformaticians who have gone on to lead projects, and I know Ph.D. bioinformaticians who do amazing work at the terminal. In the end you should be judged by your ability and interest rather than by your degree. Nevertheless, it will smooth your path if you choose a degree that aligns with the type of work you prefer.

8.3 years ago by




Hi Avalanche,

You don’t list your location but you are getting advice from all over the globe and some of this depends on what country you are in.

In the UK most people do a MSc (which they pay for) before they do a PhD (which they don’t pay for).

In the US you can often go straight for a PhD (which you do not pay for) without an MSc (which you do pay for).

So if you are in the US it makes less sense to get a MSc if you think you may eventually need a PhD than it does in the UK.

However, it can be difficult to get into bioinformatics PhD programs so in that case an MSc might be helpful, as would be some programming experience.

Unless you want to be a developer, and really like programming for the sake of programming, I would say that in general you get to do more interesting work if you have a PhD than if you have an MSc, but there are always exceptions.


I have an MS and an ME. I had the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. from a top 20 US university but decided to go with an MS. My reasoning was that my interests are very broad and I wanted to have the freedom to move around and work at various science/informatics interfaces. I’ve worked in a high-throughput screening lab and now I’m in a genomics facility and do contract work on the side for various companies.

I will say this: if you want to do anything in bioinformatics, learn how to code before you start your coursework. It doesn’t take long–I’m not saying to postpone the start of your program or anything, but I can’t stress this enough. In my experience, there is a surprising number of bioinformaticians (MS and PhDs alike) who can’t program/script at all, and having that knowledge in advance of beginning your studies will give you a huge advantage in allowing you to focus more on the problem at hand rather than how to talk to the computer in the course of solving it. Learning how to code has been the single biggest advantage for me in my career so far, and it will open up many, many doors for you if you decide you want to pursue other career trajectories. Buy a book or two and get reading. If you’re disciplined you’ll pick it up very quickly. Even a basic level of comfort with a scripting or object-oriented language will go a long way.

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