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  February 4, 2002

New Master's Degrees Equip Science
Students for Business Careers
By David Bauman

Three new professional master's degrees programs in science and mathematics are being developed at UConn for students who want careers outside the ivory tower.

During the past three years, the New York-based Sloan Foundation has helped launch new M.S. degrees at 30 American universities with strong graduate programs in the sciences and mathematics. All have been developed in concert with industry and are designed to dovetail into present and future vocational opportunities.

UConn recently joined this select group. Last year the Sloan Foundation awarded UConn a $400,000 grant to initiate three, two-year professional master's degree programs in applied genomics, applied financial mathematics and microbial systems analysis to prepare students for careers in business or government.

Answering a Need
The new programs are part of a so-called "quiet revolution" sweeping across campuses nationwide in growing response to the national priority for training graduate students at the master's level for careers outside academia.

The goal is to bring into being a new type of degree for students with bachelor's degrees in the sciences, mathematics, or engineering, that equips them to work in fields such as genetics, pharmaceuticals, consulting, banking, insurance, research management and technology transfer.

Each of the programs will consist of two years of training in an emerging or interdisciplinary area and will include internships and "cross-training" in business and communications.

"The new degree is a way of providing alternatives for science and math majors who do not wish to do medicine or engineering, or do not wish to do a Ph.D., but who also do not wish to leave science or mathematics," says Linda Strausbaugh, professor of molecular and cell biology and co-director - with Jim Henkel, associate dean of the Graduate School - of the Sloan program at UConn. "Until now these students have had nowhere to go, except directly into industry, where, as terminal bachelor's degree holders, they are housed in research labs as techies."

Ever since the projected shortfall of science and mathematics Ph.D.s evaporated in the early 1990s, the science and mathematics communities have been debating how to cope with the imbalance between supply and demand of science and mathematics Ph.D.s, says Strausbaugh. Numerous national reports have called for a "broadening" of the training of professional scientists and mathematicians, usually in conjunction with the traditional Ph.D. programs.

"In the sciences, the thinking is if you're not doing research in math or science, you really can't call yourself a scientist or mathematician," says Sheila Tobias, outreach coordinator for the Sloan Science Master's Degree Initiative, who visited the Storrs campus recently. "Instead of training producers of scholarship, our intent is to produce people who are able to use the products of scholarship in their work and who are familiar with the practical aspects of emerging problem areas."

Strausbaugh says the new UConn programs are hybrids between the traditional coursework degree, emphasizing formal theoretical coursework, and the traditional thesis degree, emphasizing original research projects - incorporating the best of both. Each will include laboratory or problem-solving experiences, computer literary and communication skills.

Corporate advisory boards are helping design the programs, and students will be paired with area corporations such as Pfizer or Cuno for internships and possibly eventual employment.