M.S. Coastal Marine and Wetland Studies:
Professional Experience Option
Fourteen years after the establishment of the master’s degree program in coastal marine and wetland studies, the Department of Marine Science has unveiled a new curriculum to cater to prospective students: a professional experience track option. As an alternative to the traditional research-driven degree, graduate students can acquire the necessary skills for the mastery of coastal marine and wetland studies without publishing a thesis.
To ensure similar skills are gained, professional expereince students have an expanded core curriculum, including scientific communication and quantitative skill-building courses. In this new option, supplemental coursework is required and a project(s)/internship can be completed instead of a thesis. These auxiliary projects can be related to research, educational outreach, environmental stewardship or an internship.
As an advanced degree has become more sought after for scientific careers both in the private and public sector, students may look for a path to gain the expertise required by a master’s degree without a coinciding focus on skillsets particular to academia. Clare Nolan (pictured) is a professional experience track master’s student who is working to gain skills in lab and field techniques through her work on the Crabtree Microbial Source Tracking Project. During this project, she aims to determine the source of increased fecal bacteria in Crabtree Swamp, noted in previous sampling by CCU’s Environmental Quality Lab to be a more polluted region of the Waccamaw watershed. “I came to grad school because I was job searching with my lone bachelor’s degree in biology and found that almost every job I’d looked at required either two or more years of very specific work or a master’s degree,” she said. “Now at Coastal, it’s almost like I am doing both! For me, a paper with my name on it isn’t the main goal of grad school, it’s learning the techniques I need to know to work the jobs I’m interested in having.”
Richard Viso, associate professor graduate program director, advises prospective participants to “consider what type of skillset you need for [your desired career]” and to “make sure to understand the program and have a plan to complete it.” For current and prospective students, he recommends searching for potential projects or internships available and getting involved by volunteering. He also stresses the importance of making yourself visible and of engaging with the professors in your field to stay knowledgeable about opportunities aligned with your career aspirations.