U Considers Master’s of Science and Technology Degree

As it grew, Idaho Technology faced a dilemma.

The company?which develops ways to test food, blood and the environment for micro-organisms?needed people with strong science backgrounds, but also with business and management skills.

?If you want to manage programmers, biochemists or engineers, you have to understand what they are doing,? said Randy Rasmussen, the Research Park company?s chief operating officer. ?You have to have a technical background, but most technical training doesn?t teach you to manage people.?

It?s a problem a lot of high tech companies face after they become larger than about six people and need managers, he said.

An unfilled niche exists for people with less than a doctorate and more than an undergraduate -level understanding of science, people who also have business training, Rasmussen said.

The University of Utah is considering a new master?s degree, which he feels may fill the gap.

A proposal for a professional master?s of science and technology degree passed the Graduate Council unanimously Monday afternoon.

Now it must go through a series of approvals, ending with the state Board of Regents.

If finalized, the degree would be the scientific equivalent of an MBA?preparing students for jobs in industry, not academia, and its first class would enter next year.

?We want to provide a cadre of scientifically trained professionals whom business, industry and government will find useful and want more of,? said David Chapman, dean of The Graduate School.

The program?s graduates will work with scientists in project manager-type positions, according to Rebecca Raybould, the program director.

The program is designed around a peer group of students. Communication and teamwork are among the skills it?s designed to instill, she said.

It represents a shift in graduate degrees in science.

Many fields offer professional degrees, even if not explicitly. A master?s in engineering is, by definition, an applied degree, but ?science has been the outsider,? Chapman said.

The U received funding from an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation initiative intended to plant seeds for these types of programs around the country.

According to the initiative?s rationale, terminal or professional master?s degrees in math and science are emerging as alternatives to doctorates.

Historically, a master?s degree in science has been viewed as a step in the process toward a doctorate, according to Tucker Gurney, associate dean of the College of Science. That is changing.

?Often, these days, people are entering right into Ph.D. programs if they plan on going into research in an academic or industrial setting,? she said.

But the background this education provides may not prove adequate, depending on where the new graduates go.

?I got my Ph.D. at the U, my training was to work alone on research for five years in a lab,? Rasmussen said. ?There is and will always be a place for that sort of training.?

Right now, the niche is occupied by people like Rasmussen?scientists and engineers learning through trial and error.

?The problems you have depend on where you come from,? he said.

Someone with a management background may have trouble understanding those they are managing. Someone, like Rasmussen, who comes from a technical background may lack the requisite people skills.

The degree has three tracks?computational science, science instrumentation and environmental science.

It also incorporates an internship component. Representatives from industry will speak to the students, Raybould said.

Despite a more perilous outlook for recent graduates, Chapman does not feel the economy?s state will affect the program.

Booms and busts will always happen. ?What we hope at the U is to put into place enduring programs that have a long shelf life,? he said.

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