Discover the Best Graduate Degrees for Emerging Careers

Sharon Wiatt Jones, M.S., CPRW

by Sharon Wiatt Jones,


Are you looking for a way to qualify for “hot jobs” in a poor economy?

Instead of aiming for a graduate or professional degree which personally interests you (folklore or film, anyone?) or impresses friends and family (M.D, MBA, J.D.), let’s consider more objective criteria:

  1. New and emerging occupations
  2. Positive job market outlook
  3. Good return on investment
  4. Breadth and depth; interdisciplinary with focus
  5. Experiential (internship, co-op, or capstone component)

The Occupational Information Network (U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration), has prepared a list of emerging occupations by industry. Some of the career fields generally requiring a master’s degree are listed here:

New and Emerging Occupations

Following is a list of industries, with sample occupations and related disciplines.

“Green” Industry

  • Environmental Economist – Sustainable development, public finance, property rights, environmental risks, regulation
  • Industrial Ecologist – Economic development and environmental quality

Information Technology

  • User Experience Designer – Psychology, anthropology, architecture, sociology, computer science, graphic design, industrial design


  • Molecular and Cellular Biologist – Biochemical or molecular problems in cell science, genetics, physiology, biophysics, and microbiology
  • Regulatory Affairs Manager – Compliance with regulations and standard operating procedures


  • Financial Quantitative Analyst – Mathematical and statistical modeling, measurement, and research


  • Human Factors Engineer and Ergonomist – Psychology, engineering, industrial design, graphic design, statistics, operations research, anthropometry


  • Remote Sensing Scientist – Geographic information systems, imagery and statistical analysis


  • Brownfield Redevelopment Specialist – Quantitative risk assessment, sustainable regeneration, environmental restoration

Major Sources: O-Net Center , Inside Jobs, and professional association websites.

Advanced manufacturing, automotive, construction, health care, homeland security, nanotechnology, and transportation are among other industries cited by the U.S. Department of Labor.


Professional Science Master’s (PSM) Degree

Sometimes called the “new science MBA”, the professional science master’s (PSM) degree is worth exploring if you have a technical background. The innovative two-year degree was initiated 15 years ago by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation after an employer survey revealed a shortage of technical professionals with business savvy.

The PSM degree is interdisciplinary, often described as a hybrid:

Science or mathematics + business + communications skills

Specialized courses are another component of the PSM degree. Depending on career focus, the topics typically include:

  • intellectual property law (patents, trademarks) and technology transfer
  • regulatory affairs
  • management, leadership, team-building
  • production and quality control
  • project management
  • public policy

Third, the PSM includes experiential learning through an internship or capstone team project.

Since initiation of the PSM, approximately 5,000 students have completed the degree in 291 programs offered by 126 colleges. Graduates have “extreme employability,” according to the National Professional Science Master’s Association. They also have a high acceptance rate at medical and dental schools.


Universities Offering PSM Degrees

Professional Science Master’s degrees prepare graduates for new and emerging occupations. Examples of universities and their programs:

North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC)

  • Financial Mathematics
  • Geospatial Information Science and Technology

Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Science (Claremont, California)

  • Clinical and Regulatory Affairs
  • Parmaceutical Discovery and Development

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick

  • IT Social Media Networking
  • Analytics/Discovery Informatics and Data Sciences
  •  Biomedical Engineering
  • Biotechnology and Genomics
  • User Experience Design
  •  Quality and Reliability Engineering

Rice University, Houston, Texas

  • Space Science

University of Maryland, University College, Adelphi

  • Biosecurity and Biodefense

University of Texas at El Paso

  • Computational Molecular Biology/Bioinformatics

Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona

  • Solar Energy Engineering & Commercialization

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania

  • Nano-science for Industrial Materials


Students generally do not receive scholarships or fellowships to fund the Professional Science Master’s degree. However, paid internships are often part of the programs. A 2009 study by the National Professional Science Master’s Association (NPSMA) found that the median annual salary of PSM respondents was $60,000 – $64,999. In addition, “Nearly 20% of PSM graduates report earning more than $90,000 per year.” You may check outcomes of degree recipients by viewing university websites or contacting their graduate school departments.

If you are seeking an advanced degree with a science, mathematics or technology foundation, consider the PSM degree. Advantages of a Professional Science Master’s degree include preparation for new and emerging occupations with a positive job market outlook, interdisciplinary and targeted content, business skills, applied experience (such as an internship), and probable effective return on investment. It may be the right match for you.

If you have experience with a PSM program, please respond with your comments. Please share your questions about emerging careers and suggested future topics.

Article courtesy of the Recruiting Blogswap, a content exchange service sponsored by, a leading site for college students looking for internships and recent graduates searching for entry level jobs and other career opportunities.

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