Study Veterinary Science: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a veterinary science degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and PhD and potential careers.
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Veterinary Science Master's and PhD: Degrees at a Glance

The field of veterinary science covers both animal science and biomedical subjects. In a veterinary science program, you learn about animal biology, genetics, and physiology, as well as intensely research a topic of your interest. Degrees in the subject are different than a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), which is a professional degree intended to prepare you for a career as a veterinarian.

Master's and PhD veterinary science degree holders can have careers in pharmaceutical research, agribusiness, animal management, or teaching. With a master's degree, you may work as a medical laboratory technologist; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 11% growth in this field during 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). With a PhD, you can work as a university professor; the BLS projects this career to grow 17% for the same decade.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in a career in a variety of animal science or biomedical fields Individuals interested in teaching and researching in a university setting
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Medical Laboratory Technologist ($58,000)*
- Materials Scientist ($87,000)*
- Natural Sciences Manager ($128,000)*
- University professor ($74,000 - based on salary for post secondary teachers across all fields)*
- Animal Scientist ($74,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Core courses in statistics and biology
- Courses in a variety of other veterinary science topics selected with faculty guidance
- Research projects
- Master's thesis
- Final examination
- Core courses in statistics and biology
- Courses in a variety of other veterinary science topics, selected with faculty guidance
- Research projects
- Qualifying exams for PhD candidacy
- Dissertation
- Final examination
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree with some undergraduate experience in biological sciences; some programs require applicants to have completed or be close to completing a DVM Bachelor's degree with some undergraduate experience in biological sciences
Online Availability Rare, but available in very limited areas None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Veterinary Science

As a student in a master's degree program in veterinary science, you can expect to complete advanced coursework in the field and pursue your own research interests as well. You will work closely with faculty and other students to answer research questions that are most relevant to your interests and career goals. You may specialize in an area such as animal health and disease, physiological sciences, or infectious diseases. Many veterinary science programs ask you to make a connection between animal health and human health, and prepare you for a number of different career paths in biomedical or animal management fields. In a career future career, you may work to improve productivity of animal agriculture or in a laboratory conducting pharmaceutical research.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many master's programs allow you to develop a plan of research and coursework that best fits your interests and goals
  • Master's degree holders go on to work in a variety of fields, including animal management and public health
  • Though very rare, online programs in veterinary science exist

Cons

  • The BLS predicts that competition for high-paying natural science management jobs will be intense for applicants*
  • Some programs require students to hold a DVM or be on track to earning one
  • It may be difficult to advance in certain professions in the field without a PhD

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses

Students in master's degree programs in veterinary science will likely be required to take core courses in statistics and biology. After completing these courses, they consult with faculty members to plan a course of study that best fits their interests.

Examples of courses you may take in a master's degree program include:

  • Developmental biology
  • Cell signaling
  • Veterinary parasitology
  • Immunobiology
  • Mammalian endocrinology
  • Physiological genomics
  • Biostatistics
  • Virology
  • Radiochemistry

Additionally, many programs have research requirements, and students are expected to explore a topic of interest in a master's thesis. Defense of this thesis often acts as a final examination.

Online Degree Options

At this time, online degree options to earn a master's degree in veterinary science are very rare, but do exist. In an online program, courses are delivered over the Internet, but you must still complete lab classes in person. In traditional, campus-based programs, students usually have the option to pursue studies in an area of their interest, with many areas from which to select. Online programs are usually much more limited in terms of the specific areas of study offered.

Stand Out with this Degree

Getting involved in a professional association, such as the American Society of Animal Science, may help you to continue your education and advance your career. Membership in such organizations has many benefits, including making job resources available and offering networking opportunities to help develop your career. Additionally, these associations commonly host conferences and web seminars , allowing you to continue growing your knowledge and stay current in the field.

Additionally, focus on developing your lab skills. Courses in practical lab analysis can help you learn proper lab techniques through hands-on experience. A course in lab ethics will reinforce lab skills and demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the theory of lab work and performing the type of work correctly.

PhD in Veterinary Science

PhD programs in veterinary science are generally research focused and designed to prepare you for an academic career. These programs emphasize translational research - turning discoveries made in a laboratory into real-world solutions - and its impact on future advances in the field. Like the master's degree program, you will start with a strong foundation of mathematics and science courses, then advance to independent research in an area of your interest. Students in these programs are highly motivated and focused on making contributions to the field through research and publication. Graduates move on to teach in universities or continue their investigation in an academic setting.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Students in PhD programs have freedom to develop their own course of study and pursue their research interests
  • According to the BLS, growth is expected for animal scientists, as many scientists are predicted to retire and vacate their positions over the course of the next decade*
  • After completing a PhD program, graduates are considered qualified to teach at the university level

Cons

  • Completing a PhD program is a long, intense process, and could take up to 5 years
  • Many new professors struggle to balance their teaching duties with their own research interests, as they continue to experience the pressure to publish in journals
  • Online options do not exist at this time
  • Competition for tenure-track professorships is expected to be very strong, as many universities are moving away from these appointments

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Course and Requirements

The course requirements in a PhD program in veterinary science are very similar to those in a master's degree program. In one of these programs, you can expect to take a number of core courses in the sciences and mathematics, and continue coursework in a subject of your interest. Students in these programs usually select a specialization track in areas such as population health or anatomy and radiology. You will work closely with an adviser to formulate your path of study, and focus in on a research topic for your dissertation. After a qualifying exam, you focus the majority of your time on writing a dissertation. Generally, defense of your dissertation functions as a final, oral examination.

Online Degree Options

Because so much of the work for this degree occurs in a lab an the impossibility of replicating this experience through an online delivery system, online degree options are not available at this time. Additionally, students in PhD programs in veterinary science collaborate closely with faculty and other students on research activities and developing a course of study. A campus-based program gives you extensive hands-on experience in a lab and allows you to design your own curriculum based on your research and career goals.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

To stand out with this degree, consider complete a course in scientific research ethics. Because having a PhD often leads to a career that involves research, this course can provide you with a foundation to conduct ethical, unbiased research. Employers may be impressed by the fact that your research will be reliable because of your ethical knowledge.

Additionally, completing a lab course that provides instruction on multiple forms of pathological testing will demonstrate your advanced lab skills. This may make you more attractive to potential employers.

A good way to get ahead while completing a PhD program in veterinary science is to pursue a departmental teaching assistantship. Working as a teaching assistant will give you great experience for a career working as a university professor after graduation. The competition for jobs in this field is very strong, and getting some practical experience will give you an advantage in the job market. Teaching while completing your PhD program will also prepare you for the often demanding job environment of a university professor, and help you to transition more easily in your new role.

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