By the end of the Spring Semester of 2016, I would be only 30 percent away from completion of my master’s degree. I am currently enrolled in Master of Science in Energy Policy and Climate (EPC) at Johns Hopkins University, which is offered as an interdisciplinary, professional degree. There would be a lot of different opinions about this program, especially considering its relatively short history, but here I’d like to share my personal thoughts as a current student for those who may consider choosing this particular degree program.
Throughout the experience that I have had as a degree candidate, I could identify three strengths in the EPC program, which ironically corresponds to its three weaknesses. In other words, each merit has the flip side–prospect students would need to weigh these aspects according to their priorities. Here, I’ll limit my discussions to the students who study mostly online like myself.
1. Flexibility vs. Not Best for Networking
The paramount strength of this program is its flexibility. The EPC has become available 100% online from 2016, and even its on-campus course in Washington D. C. are mostly held at night. The courses are designed and structured for full-time professionals who are seeking to obtain basic scientific knowledge and policy imperatives related to climate change in an efficient manner. No thesis is required to acquire the degree; instead, a capstone project that employs practical work experience is a must. All these features allow students to get the degree without jeopardizing their career.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an enhanced professional network, this may not be the best choice. While the university eliminates potential problems with logistics by offering a solid platform for online learning, it is extremely challenging to get acquainted with your classmates in any real way. It is almost mandatory to maintain online discussions every week, and some instructors hold Skype office hours on a regular basis. All these efforts work very effectively, but are nothing compared to on-site classes. You don’t get to “accidently overhear” what classmates say about the previous exam, or which company your senior got into. You may be able to get the information, but you need to work really hard to get it.
2. Diversity vs. Variability
The EPC students are from various locations of the world with diverse background, and so are the instructors. Unlike traditional graduate schools, the program presents a tapestry of instructors who currently fill high-profile positions in the government and international organizations as well as in academic institutions. Being taught by an active policy consultant or an incumbent senior official of the Federal government is a great opportunity, considering their profound expertise and insight.
Meanwhile, the gap between “good” courses and “bad” ones can be quite big. I have experienced 7 course so far, and they were all very different in terms of the amount of work required to finish the course (the number of readings, assignments, etc.) or the adeptness of the instructor especially in regard to online courses. I personally think that the longer the instructor taught the same online course, the better the course is structured.
3. Easy to Get In/Out vs. Not “Deep” Enough
In comparison with other full-time graduate programs, the EPC program is less difficult to get the admission. Moreover, it is designed to cater to professionals, so the requirements to graduate are not so demanding. I chose this program because I was in a transitional period in my personal life, and luckily I could follow the studies while juggling through other priorities.
But no pain, no gain. While the core courses adequately cover the “basic” science and technology revolving around climate change and energy policy, that’s the most you can get from the degree. Now the program can be completed 100% online, it can hardly avoid the common impression people have about “online degree.” You need to work harder than required if you want to excel in your field.
Overall, I like my program as it fits my needs. But all this is just one person’s opinion–for more information about the program, you can visit the EPC website. For those who have any questions, please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.