What is a Professional Master's in Food Science?
Are you considering graduate school in Food Science? What are your options?
Applying to graduate school can be a daunting task. First, you have to find a program that interests you. Next, you have to identify potential advisors with research topics that you might want to work on. Then, maybe you blindly email professors hoping they have available funding. All this and you might not even get a response!
On top of this, Food Science departments are now offering more degree options than ever before: Master’s (M.S.), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and more recently, professional Master’s.
We know first hand how many factors there are to consider when deciding which (if any) graduate degree is right for you. In our experience, you can make it easier on yourself if you invest the time to really understand your options.
Since the professional Master’s degrees are still relatively new to the Food Science world, we thought it might be helpful to talk about the logistics of a professional program and how it stacks up to the traditional options. We also wanted to mention a few resources that can help ease you into the application process.
To start your search, we suggest checking out the Graduate Program Directory on the IFT website. This page provides an excellent starting point for identifying potential IFT accredited graduate programs. A majority of these universities only have traditional research-based Master’s and PhD programs but you’ll notice that some of them also offer professional Master’s programs!
Since we are both in the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program in Food Science at Cornell University, we will specifically focus on aspects of this program.
At Cornell, the MPS degree is a one-year program that emphasizes course work and professional development. To confer your degree you need to complete 30 course credits, including a problem-based project.
According to the website, Cornell’s program is designed for people “who are already in a professional career but desire to upgrade their skills and knowledge” and for those “who possess a non-food science, but related, bachelor degree who want to pursue a career in food science and want to acquire a necessary knowledge base.”
We both agree that our experience with the Food Science MPS program at Cornell has been exceptional and worth the investment (and no we were not paid to say this!).
Here are 6 reasons why this program rocks:
- Flexibility - You get to decide your course focus and can choose to take things that interest you! There is also a lot of room to supplement your Food Science education with courses from other departments such as business, plant science, and even culinary.
- Great way to pivot careers - We both went from Chemistry to Food Science! In general, our peers all have really diverse backgrounds and interests.
- Professional development - Resume critiques, mock interviews, an advisory council of food industry professionals and more! The program does a great job with career support and helping us to develop soft skills.
- Fast - The program usually takes people about 2-3 semesters to complete!
- Project versus thesis - On top of courses, we have to complete a problem solving project. This is a great set up for people who aren’t totally in love with the research aspect but want to learn more about a particular topic or get hands-on experience doing some Food Science lab/consumer testing work.
- Internal/external support - We also have excellent support from the Food Science Graduate Program Coordinator as well as the Office of Professional Programs and Extended Learning, which oversees all of the professional programs at Cornell in a variety of disciplines. Overall, you really feel like the graduate department cares about your success and happiness throughout your time in the program.
Some things that we consider to be challenging:
- Funding - Our program is self-funded compared to other M.S./PhD programs that receive funding. We are both fortunate to be able to make this work but recognize it might not be a realistic option for everyone. Hopefully in the coming years, more scholarships and financial aid will become available to make this program more accessible to interested students.
- Program pace - While the quick nature of this program is a benefit in a lot of ways, it also can be stressful! It can be a challenge to balance a full course load while simultaneously job hunting and wrapping up your required project.
- Varying project expectations - The expectations for your problem-solving project really varies depending on what advisor you select. We recommend having a discussion with your advisor at the beginning of the year (and periodically) to make sure you are both on the same page. This way there are no surprises at the end of the year when you go to turn in your project report.
Some tips for applying to the MPS program at Cornell:
- Reach out to the graduate department and have them connect you with current students or alumni to learn more about their experiences with the program.
- In your personal statement, allow your passion to shine through and talk about ways you can add value to the department if accepted into the program.
- Although most students apply and then wait to see what advisor they are assigned, try speaking to professors in advance. If one agrees to take you on ahead of time, then definitely include that in your application!
Overall, we have both had a very positive experience at Cornell and hope our investment will pay off when we land our dream jobs in the coming months (we will keep you posted!).
The professional programs are continuing to grow and we anticipate more schools will have them in the near future. As of now, some other schools that have Professional Master’s programs in Food Science include: University of British Columbia, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and University of Illinois just to name a few.
If you’re interested in a career in the food industry but aren’t sure about the research aspect or are trying to pivot careers, the MPS program may be for you! If you liked this article and are interested to learn more, feel free to reach out to either of us for more information - we are happy to help! (Cat - email@example.com & Meg - firstname.lastname@example.org)