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Ask the Administrator: Retooling to Teach Chemistry

Degree choices and career choices.


October 7, 2015

A new correspondent writes:

I have been thinking of going back to school for and Ed.D to teach college in a teacher education program or maybe a MS in chemistry to teach at a community college. I'm trying to decide what to do and what would be best for me.

Background: I got my biology degree and worked for a biotech company for (more than ten) years, then I taught high school biology for (more than ten) years and 2 years of chemistry as well during that time.  A year ago we moved across the country and now I'm wondering what to do.  I don't want to teach high school anymore. I have always wanted to get another degree but don't have money to do it. Is there any way to get a scholarship or TA to be able to pay for it?

(In a subsequent email, she clarified that the biology degree was a bachelor’s, that she got a teaching certification in bio and chemistry, and that she later got a master’s in education.)

My first thought would be to decide whether you’d prefer to teach chemistry or teacher ed. If it’s the latter, you already have the basic qualifications for a community college. (Most cc teacher ed programs that I’ve seen only offer a few courses in the area, leaving most of it to the upper division institution.) With a background in science teaching, you could be a hot commodity, since science teachers are always in high demand. In my observation, most of the students who take teacher ed programs cluster in the English and Early Childhood areas, making the ones in STEM that much more desirable.

If you’d rather teach chemistry or biology at a community college, in most cases, you’ll need at least a master’s. The good news is that with your industry and educational background, a master’s should be enough to attract serious interest. With graduate degrees in both chemistry and education, you could sell yourself not just as a dedicated scientist and teacher, but as an expert in both fields. Many candidates are strong in one field or the other, but relatively few are strong in both.

If you choose the chemistry route, then the funding question becomes relevant.  Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I went to grad school, the rule of thumb was that most fellowship or t.a. funding went to doctoral students, rather than to master’s students. Many graduate schools seem to treat master’s programs as cash cows, so they prefer to have students pay their own way. That said, some doctoral programs hand out master’s degrees as consolation prizes if you don’t finish the doctorate, so it’s at least conceptually possible to get funded as a doctoral student to get your master’s, and then drop out.

Not that anybody would ever do such a thing.

Alternately, some community colleges will fund graduate tuition for full-time faculty. If you find a cc that does that, and get hired on in a teacher ed program, you may be able to swing at least partial funding from the cc for your master’s in chemistry.  You may have to show relevance, but depending on what you’re hired to do, that might not be a deal-breaker.

All of that said, though, I’m not terribly conversant in the current state of master’s degree funding for STEM students, so I’ll throw it to my wise and worldly readers. Folks out there who know the STEM graduate world well: how can a returning adult get help getting a master’s in chemistry?

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, would you offer any corrections or additions?  Is there a better way?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


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