Students at the end of their Master’s study programme often wonder whether they should pursue another Master's degree or a Ph.D. It's good to give a lot of thought to this decision, as there are substantial differences between the two levels that you might want to consider before starting to apply for a new degree programme.
Although both Masters and PhDs are considered graduate studies, there are significant differences between the two degree levels.
1. Research vs. skill acquisition
Master’s programmes are inherently interdisciplinary, mixing curriculum and teaching styles from different disciplines in order to ensure students acquire specific skills and tools for a wide palette of future careers.
PhDs, however, are designed to be independent research endeavours, with limited guidance from professors and departments, aiming to verify the answer to a specific question.
So, you should choose a second Master’s if you want to know a bit of everything, and a PhD if you want to be an expert in your field.
2. Differences in degree duration
While a Master’s programme usually has 4 semesters, with some Master’s degrees offering the possibility of condensing the studies in one year or 18 months, PhDs frequently take well beyond three years to complete, depending on the subject and the graduate school.
This should influence your decision, given the varying time it takes before the diploma becomes a career asset.
3. You also choose your career path
Master’s degrees are intended to transmit general skills, ideal if you want to keep your career options open, while aiming at a wide array of jobs. For example, a Master’s in Communication Sciences can enable you to work in areas from journalism to PR and sales.
In the case of a PhD, your specialisation gets even narrower, while the depth of expertise advances greatly. This is the desired path if your professional destination is very precise, at the top of a hierarchy or if you intend to freelance/become an entrepreneur.
4. Degree availability and funding opportunities
Master’s degrees are the fastest growing type of study programme available worldwide, with more and more alternative interdisciplinary combinations being approved each year, in an attempt to adapt to the job market.
PhD programmes are generally more resilient to change, as well as more focused on long-term institutional research goals, involving many departments and candidates, over several years.
Their purpose is also less susceptible to market fluctuations, depending mostly on the research needs of society, as well as the demands of financing institutions such as ministries, museums, central governments, think tanks and local authorities.
5. Flexibility and time commitment
Another difference of pace between Masters and PhDs is the possibility to work throughout the study years. While there are part-time masters and degrees which offer courses concentrated in the late evening in order to allow attendance from employed students, PhD’s are seen more like full-time occupations, being funded in a way to compensate the impossibility of balancing a job with the research.
Not to mention that a PhD involves constant research and other academic responsibilities such as teaching, conferences, reference papers, publishing and help with departmental organizing.
6. Changing your specialisation
If you plan on moving towards a new specialisation, either to diversify your skills or to requalify, a Master’s degree is far more accessible and easier to start from scratch. A PhD in a completely different discipline is very hard to achieve, mainly because graduate schools demand “affinity with the subject” when applying.
Not to mention that a successful PhD proposal is much more difficult to achieve in a completely new topic and domain. This does not mean that applying for a different Master’s degree is not without effort or challenges, but it is far more likely given the abundance of master’s programmes available worldwide, compared to doctorates.
As a general perception, universities perceive successive Masters in similar or related fields as a sign of indecisiveness and shallowness. On the other hand, holding two or more degrees in significantly different disciplines (like Economics and Arts or Engineering and Languages) can be a major CV booster.
Probably one choice is not in itself better than the other. It's just a question if you want to be better in your work, or if your dream is to become more of a scholar and dedicate yourself to research.
Good luck with your research!