Is A Dual Tech/Business Degree The Next Big Thing?

They’re two of the most powerful areas in which to specialize: business and technology. But is there a way to prepare for both while at school?

While they may seem to be disparate choices, hybrid degree programs have surfaced in universities across the country, offering students a combination of the foundations of both of these industries. Those programs are geared toward providing graduates with what is known as a Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degree.

As the U.S. begins to fall behind other nations in producing top candidates in the realms of science and technology, introducing business aspects into higher degree programs is one way that students, universities, companies, nonprofits and governmental agencies are fighting to regain ground. Adding extra value to traditional advanced science degrees expands the knowledge base and capabilities of these graduates and better prepares them for a career in technology and business.

Scientists and technicians in various arenas of the industry are realizing the value of business skills and are looking to pursue a way to combine their current work with these viable skills. They are looking for ways to pursue a career in science and technology while also getting out of the lab and into the business world. This is especially true for those who are interested in the technological aspects of science, such as data analysis and the efficacy of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and other areas of science.

According to figures from the Council of Graduate Schools, enrollment in PSM degree programs has risen 23 percent since 2010, up to nearly 6,000 students in the fall of 2013. To scale the popularity of PSM degrees among today’s students, consider this increase at a time when overall graduate enrollment is seeing increases only in the single digits.

So what does this degree entail? How might it be applied to the present-day technology and business industries? And what does it mean for the future of this career spectrum?

What Is The Professional Science Master’s Degree?

The National Professional Science Master’s Association (NPSMA) defines this degree:

“The Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degrees serve the needs of scientists who want to improve their skills in business. The PSM program is designed to fill a management need for technology-based companies, governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations. The business training is complemented by advanced science training in pertinent fields depending on the degree science/engineering focus.”

The NPSMA continues:

“The PSM degree is a two-year graduate degree designed to fill a management need for technology-based companies, governmental agencies and non-profit organizations. Students pursue advanced training in science, while simultaneously developing valued business skills. […] Professional Science Master’s programs emphasize writing and communication skills, and many include project management.  Most PSM programs require a final project or team experience, as well as an internship in a business or public sector enterprise.”

According to The New York Times, when PSM students enroll in their respective specialties, the most common is computer and information sciences, the most technological of the degree choices. The next most popular areas are environmental sciences and natural resources, mathematics and statistics and biotechnology.

Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, says, “More than 90 percent of professional science master’s graduates that we surveyed for 2013 were employed in a job related to their field of study.”

She then says that the hybrid degree “grew out of the realization that we needed to prepare students not with the degree their professors have, but with degrees that are needed in the workplace.”

In this way, PSM graduates can segue out of the jobs they already have in their field into careers that employ more business, technological, and workplace-savvy skills. They learn these skills in the PSM degree program and thereby become more attractive to employers of the jobs they want, which often have better wages and better suit their interests.

According to NPSMA, “Graduates are equipped to manage the breakthroughs that are created by the research teams. They can interact comfortably and intelligently with scientific researchers and business managers, especially in the marketing, finances, and legal departments.”

Major public university systems in Arizona, California and New York represent just a few of the nearly 140 educational institutions that now offer the PSM degree. As the degree becomes more popular among potential graduate students—which, with a 23 percent increase in enrollment, already is—more universities will begin offering this degree. This will make it more accessible to college graduates of all disciplines – from science to communications – who are interested in such a field of study.

How Can the PSM Degree Be Applied In Today’s Job World?

Just how valuable is a PSM degree? One of the big reasons why students enter into these programs is to integrate data analysis with practical business purposes.

In a recent article from The New York Times, PSM degree holder Daniel Brisker said, “It made a lot more sense to get the master’s degree in biotechnology, specializing in bioinformatics, to be able to analyze and create programs to better understand how medications interact with patients and find the best type to treat cancer or another illness.”

Another PSM student, Joanna Naymark, actually had little science background before entering the PSM degree program. She holds a degree in communications from U.C.L.A. and eventually joined a genomics start-up, helping to profile people’s risks for diseases.

Of her real world work with what she has learned, she said she has, “been able to work on teams doing projects in pharma and biotech, including a project with the City of Hope hospital to look for a commercial path for an oncology treatment.” After graduating this year, she also says that she wants to look into venture capital and investing in biotech.

These two examples show how a PSM degree can be applied to the workplace. With business skills like program management, commercial endeavors and venture capital, both of these students have been able to pursue careers that elevate their technological and scientific pursuits and open the doors to opportunities for more money and job satisfaction.

What Does The PSM Degree Mean For The Future Of Tech And Business?

One of the areas of business and technology that will be most affected by the rise of PSM degrees is start-ups. Because the PSM degree program requires that students either complete a project or internship that provides cross training in business, start-ups are particularly interested in getting those students on board.

Rana Khan, chairwoman of the information and technology systems department at the University of Maryland University College, says, “This has worked out well because start-ups usually don’t have enough personnel and resources, so they are happy to have someone to do the market, product, or competitor analyses.”

With a higher saturation of PSM graduates entering the market, existing start-ups will enjoy growth and prosperity, and new start-ups will also be born as a result. Start-ups are all about innovation, and a degree like the PSM promises nothing but innovation in the tech and business fields.

Established entities will also benefit from a proliferation of PSM graduates in the workplace, as they will be able to take advantage of employees with both tech and business backgrounds, and not just one or the other. This integration can prove very valuable in both streamlining operations and strengthening the use of data analysis to grow the business.

What this also means is development of a whole new hybrid industry that will create its own demand for new jobs in the field as more graduates begin to proliferate the job marketplace. Put a few of these graduates together, and you have a company that offers specific solutions to other businesses. As the capabilities of harnessing data and technology for business purposes become more available, the demand for companies with these types of products and services will increase as well.

The PSM degree is a viable trend in the technology and business sectors, and it’s only growing in popularity with time. Both of these industries are now poised to be brought together like never before, and they both are destined to be significantly changed as a result.

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