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Question: What Is a Professional Science Master’s (PSM) Degree?

Answer: A Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degree is an interdisciplinary master’s level degree that integrates technical instruction in science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics with complementary training in professional business and communication skills and relevant legal and policy issues. PSM programs are designed to cultivate specialized expertise in STEM fields coupled with practical proficiencies in organizational management and leadership.

Professional Science Master’s Degree Programs

A PSM is a STEM-oriented degree that includes training in business, communication, and policy, which are sometimes referred to as “science-plus” skills. These programs are designed to prepare students for leadership roles in scientific fields, for working in businesses that conduct scientific research and development, and for positions in which management and policy issues intersect with technological innovation. PSM programs also aim to give students the tools needed to work as liaisons between research scientists and business managers, policymakers, and the public.

PSM programs are relatively a new development. They grew from grants provided by the Alfred P. Sloan and William M. Keck foundations in the late 1990s. The goal was to meet a growing demand in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields for professionals who possess practical management skills in areas like budgeting, risk-assessment, and project management. A typical PSM curriculum includes coursework that may overlap with a traditional Master of Science (MS) degree in a particular field and incorporates several classes that would more commonly be found in a business management, organizational leadership, and/or communication degree program.

Types of PSM Programs

There are PSM degrees available across a broad spectrum of STEM fields, including biology, chemistry, physics, environmental studies, computer programming, and software engineering. These programs often target interdisciplinary areas of applied science, integrating knowledge and skills from two or more STEM fields into a curriculum geared toward deploying scientific research and technological innovations to address practical problems and real-world concerns. Some of the more common areas of study in PSM programs include:

  • Applied and Industrial Chemistry: The application of existing research in chemistry and chemical engineering processes to create new products and improve existing products for commercial and consumer use.
  • Applied Sustainability Science: The use of advances in science and technology to manage natural resources, mitigate damage to the environment, and engineer solutions to various environmental problems.
  • Bioenergy: Using the tools of biological science to develop and advance renewable energy sources from plants and animals in the form of biofuels.
  • Bioinformatics: The application of information technologies in the biological and medical sciences to collect and analyze large datasets in order to identify causes of disease and find potential cures.
  • Cybersecurity: Protecting and defending computer systems, networked devices, and other parts of digital information and communication infrastructures from unwanted and unlawful intrusions and attack.
  • Data Science: The application of statistical modeling techniques and the use of big data systems to mine and analyze information in order to answer questions and solve problems in a variety of fields, including healthcare, marketing, and public policy.
  • Energy Systems Engineering: Developing more efficient methods for creating, delivering, and storing energy for mass use, and engineering clean energy solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • Engineering Management: Organizational leadership applied to engineering project management in a range of areas, from mass infrastructure projects to computer software development.
  • Entrepreneurial Biotechnology: The application of biotech research to the development of marketable products in medicine and healthcare.
  • Geographical Information Science (GIS): Using geographic information systems to compile data that can be sorted, analyzed, and visualized for practical use.
  • Industrial Mathematics: The application of mathematical and statistical tools to problem-solving in an industrial setting using skills in areas like computer science, engineering, and data science.
  • Medical Physics: Using research in the field of physics to find new medical treatments, particularly in the fields of cancer care, radiation therapy, and diagnostic imaging.
  • Nanotechnology: Applied research and development at the atomic and molecular level in order to engineer new materials for use in medicine, electronics, manufacturing, and other areas.
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences: The application of biological and chemical science to the development of new drugs and therapies for the treatment of disease and for other medical applications.
  • Toxicology: Applied research in the field of biochemistry to better understand the adverse effects of chemical compounds on human health, to diagnose and treat those exposed to toxins, and to mitigate the risk of exposure.

The PSM Curriculum

A typical PSM curriculum provides coursework in a STEM specialization as well as “science-plus” professional training in business and communication skills that are applicable in companies and organizations that conduct scientific research and development. These programs are often created in coordination with representatives from private sector organizations, through regional business advisory boards, or similar partnerships. Schools with PSM programs may also work with local companies in order to create a curriculum that meets specific employment needs in the region.

PSM degree requirements vary by program. However, most of these programs can be completed in roughly two years of part-time enrollment, and are designed to accommodate students who may already be working professionally. Students in a PSM program generally take four or more core STEM courses that cover foundational proficiencies in the area of study, and may be able to choose several electives that address more specialized topics and provide advanced technical training. They also complete several professional development courses that focus on the business and management side of work in that STEM field. While the balance of science coursework and professional development classes varies by program, in most cases more than half of a PSM curriculum is devoted to scientific and technical training.

Another key component of many PSM programs is an applied and/or experiential learning project, which may take the form of an internship, a capstone, or a combination of the two. A PSM internship may involve working for a company or organization engaged in scientific research and development for as much as a full semester in order to gain practical, on-the-job training. PSM capstone projects, which challenge students to demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learned in the program, are often tied to an internship experience.

The National Professional Science Master’s Association and the PSM National Office offer a range of additional resources and informational material for those interested in learning more about PSM degree programs.

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