Mastering My Options

I began my adventure into graduate-level coursework with a simple plan: take a graduate certificate in cognitive science, complete a Master’s degree in Clinical/Community Psychology, and then get my Ph.D. in Clinical Health Psychology.

Every bit of this plan has been skewed. Initially I was rejected by the cognitive science program because I did not have a clear plan of what I wanted to accomplish with it, then I decided that the Clinical/Community Psych program was basically for stiff over-achievers, which also nullified the Clinical Health Psych Ph.D. idea for me.

What has now occurred is I was admitted to Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (WGST) instead of Cognitive Science (GCOG), then I was admitted to Cognitive Science as well. Now I am in both programs and intend to complete both of them. The hole this leaves open in my plan is that I no longer have a narrow focus. I was originally going to primarily focus on the human cognition side of cognitive science, as I had long ago left computer science behind, and then move on to a mental health field. Now, the WGST program has exposed me to so much social science and social issues material that I don’t want to work on Cog Sci from the perspective of a humanities program, I want to approach it from the computer science side a bit, although from more of an information systems perspective than true computer science. Also, WGST has renewed my interest in social sciences, but not necessarily from the perspective of psychology (which tends to be an overly general field of science). After all of these changes, what Master’s program do I need to be in? Where do I fit?

I have been asking myself that question for the last several weeks as admissions deadlines have become closer. I have applied to counseling and sociology, and I know I could be happy in either of those fields, but I worry about my chances of being admitted as well as my level of fit with the programs. For counseling I will know by the end of the month if I have been rejected (but I won’t know until March or April if I have been accepted). For sociology, I guess it is up to Dr. Moller to decide when I will know my fate. As for my other concerns, I have been looking into several different programs, trying to determine where I fit in and what will work best for me.

  • Master of Arts in Counseling – this program is the first that came to mind after giving up on C/C Psych. It encompasses everything that I like about psychology, but leaves out some of the more morally concerning aspects (such as dependency on diagnostic labels). My fear with this program is that it is practicum based, not thesis based. I can complete a thesis if I like, but the program is not designed for that outcome. I fear I will have to give up my research interests for a purely instructional education style. Also, there are rules for the program requiring “professional dress”. I think this is an interesting thing coming from a counseling program. I am all for dressing cleanly and presenting a positive image, but I do believe that ultimately in a graduate program, we are just students and should not be subjected to that type of requirement.  The final concern I have is that the program is 60 credit hours. That is a lot of hours for a Masters program. Most are from 30-45 hours. In the time it would take me to complete the MA in Counseling I could complete 2 other programs, or a single MA and have a strong start on a Ph.D. program.
  • Master of Arts in Sociology – this program became option #2 after I started getting into gender studies and things of that sort with the WGST program. It will allow me to engage in thesis research and follow topics of personal interest in the field of sociology. I feel like I am a good fit for the program, but the low number of seats available makes me question my chances of being admitted. Still, I desperately want in to this program. It seems like the best place for me with the highest chance of me completing with my personality intact.
  • Master of Science in Information Technology – this program is sort of funny for me. I ran from this department (Software and Information Systems) in 2007 and didn’t look back. I did not enjoy my initial time in the department, but this program grabs my eye. It is interesting and covers primarily topics that excite me, such as Human Computer Interaction and Software Design. The program is very flexible, with the option of completing a concentration or a thesis. It is conceivable that I could complete this program with a concentration of cognitive science (using the thesis option) and build upon the graduate certificate.
  • Master of Arts in Liberal Studies – this program is and has been defined for a long time as my backup plan. If all else falls through, this is where I can put my effort. This program is open-ended. I can design my program however I want and fill it with whatever courses I want. The program is completed with a thesis or a project, so that works out, but I’m not entirely sure where it fits in my overall plans. One thing I have considered with this program is applying to it even if I do get accepted to another program, having it as a place to put my special interests. If I am admitted to sociology or counseling it is a place to put an extension of my work in cognitive science, if I am admitted to Information Technology it is a place to put an extension of my work in gender studies.

There is a sense of urgency for being admitted to a program. Most programs admit only once per year, in Fall, and there is a concern regarding the number of hours I accumulate. I am only allowed to transfer 6 hours into any program that I am admitted to, even though it is at the same institution. The good news is that if I am admitted into 2 programs, I can transfer 6 hours into each program, but at 9 hours per semester, that doesn’t go very far. I am prepared to accept that each of my certificates will hold 6 hours that do not get allocated to any other program, so that’s 12 hours I don’t have to account for, but by the time I have 24 graduate hours (12 + 6 for each MA)  I need to have a clue what I am doing as far as a Master’s program. Another concern, although more minor, is that I only have 6 years from the first credit earned toward a program to complete the program. As I have already completed hours toward sociology, electives for counseling and have started on hours toward the IT degree the clock is already running on my hours. Additionally, any hours that I wish to transfer to a doctoral program must be used within 8 years of being earned, but that is a lesser concern because they will likely be upper level hours completed in a master’s program.

Posted from Bessemer City, North Carolina, United States.