Dr. John O. Aje By Dr. John O. Aje • July 28, 2015

How Do You Know If You Need A Master’s Degree for a Career in Science and Technology?

Humanity has a love-hate relationship with technology. Our growing reliance on new and updated systems, networks and products presents both challenges and benefits to our global society. But undoubtedly, its impact is a pervasive reminder of what we can do.

Technology is integral to modern life. As tech professionals, we are responsible for designing, building and applying scientific principles to meet the technological demands of our society. Whether we work in the utilities or healthcare industry, aviation sector or IT field, keeping up to date with the latest developments and predicting future needs is a critical part of what we do.

Application-oriented knowledge and specialized training is inherent in the field. So I understand when technology professionals question the practicality of a master’s degree. This is a fair question from people who are trained to inquire, examine and solve complex problems.  

At the end of the day, my response can always be summed up in one word: goals.

If one of your career goals includes managing other people, then earning a graduate degree can help you develop the skills necessary to advance. Your undergraduate education likely focused on the disciplinary aspects of your career; a graduate degree emphasizes the critical evaluation, decision-making and problem-solving skills required to lead today’s technical enterprises. 


Why Are Technical Skills Not Enough?

Technology rarely exists by itself. Although we work in highly specialized fields, we often interact with people who rely on that technology but have no technical background.  We also collaborate with people on complex projects, solve difficult problems and make decisions with people who maintain and improve that technology.

Yes, as a manager, you must have a thorough understanding of the specialization that you are managing. However, advancement is tied to how well you can lead people and manage projects. Your success as an engineer, specialist or officer is no guarantee that you will be successful at managing others. Good leadership is more than management tactics and collaborative strategies. Leadership talent is derived from engaging employees, overcoming adversity, driving productivity and performance improvement that results in a significant competitive advantage.

Today, most technology fields require a graduate degree to qualify for executive and management positions. Perhaps it is because these organizations recognize that the most effective leaders possess a combination of technical expertise and the ability to supervise the work of their employees. A working knowledge of a discipline is no longer enough; today’s leaders must be adept in continuous process improvement, production and operations management, quality control, corporate social responsibility, ethical and regulatory issues, and general management principles. They must be able to solve safety issues, technological and human performance challenges, all while measuring productivity and driving profitable innovation. Simply put, in today’s increasingly competitive job market, having a graduate degree provides most candidates with a competitive advantage.

So if you are debating whether to attend graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in applied science and technology, I urge you to counter my earlier one word response with one of your own: Do you want to lead?

Yes or no? 

Dr. John O. Aje

Written by Dr. John O. Aje

Dr. John Aje joined the University in August 2013 as dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology. His impressive leadership record includes several top-level administrative positions as well as developing innovative academic programs in applied science and technology that align with the needs of the global economy. He earned a doctoral degree and master's degree in engineering management from George Washington University, a master's degree from North Carolina State University, and a bachelor's degree from Clemson University.

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