GSD? MArch II vs MDesS


I wanted to reach out to any Master in Design Studies (MDesS) students who went to or are at the gsd. What did you think of the program? Which concentration? I've been told (by MArch's) the MDesS students are like second-class citizens around the school. there is something interesting about a program that is not totally studio based. I like the idea of having the ability to focus on your interests and an independent study. any more or less opportunities than MArch's? has the new 3 semester program gotten better?

All and any thoughts are welcome.

many thanks

Sep 3, 09 3:51 pm

MDes is a joke.

Sep 4, 09 11:38 am

and why do you say that?

Sep 4, 09 11:48 am

You can probably find more on this by searching.

Basically, the MDes degree is one of many degrees that Harvard University offers as a way to get money. The degree means little if anything professionally. If you want to get the HDS on your resume for some reason that would be the reason to get one.

At the school, the MDes students are looked upon as the lowest of the low, below planners and K School students.

Sep 4, 09 4:10 pm

I know of at least one person who pursued the MDes just to get an Ivy credential on their resume. For them, it was a means to get a teaching gig, since (at from what I've observed) an Ivy degree is pretty much an unstated requirement to get a tenure-track teaching job.

Sep 4, 09 4:16 pm

I should clarify that this person already had an M.Arch from a state school before they persued the MDes....

Sep 4, 09 4:17 pm

MDes is deffinetely ragarded as a second class program around the GSD - whether this is fair or not is debatable.

This are the two principle critisisms of the MDes program:

They do smack of resume padding experiences because they are so short. It used to be that you could use the MDes program as an easy way to put Harvard on your cv in 9 months. I'm not sure if that's changed now that the degree is 3 semesters long.

Another reason that people don't take it seriously, is because it doesn't have a thesis or dissertation at the end, so there isn't a real student lead research project at the conclusion of these degrees. Students can drift in and out of a bunch of classes that are graded pass/fail - doesn't seem so rigorous.

This is all bases on my experience a few years ago. I didn't know if any of this has changed in the last few years ...

If you are interested in MDes, then it might also be worth your while looking at the different Smarchs programs at MIT.

Sep 6, 09 1:16 pm

Some thoughts from a recent MdesS grad:

I did not experience any noticeable "second-class citizen" effects while I was there. Noteably, I was not a real estate concentrator (see below). The major issue is that you do not officially have any physical desk space at the GSD in the trays with the other students, which can make integration somewhat difficult. Sometimes the other GSD students look up to you as an MDesS because you are generally already more experienced.

One viewpoint at the GSD is that the real estate MDesS, which is the largest of the multiple MDesS concentrations, makes the entire program look bad. The real estate concentration has little to do with actual design, the students often do not come from design backgrounds, and they are thus marginalized at the GSD. The other concentrations are much smaller (5 or less students per concentration) and tend to fare much better.

The program is officially 3 semesters in length. It is possible for some applicants with extensive prior experience to obtain advanced placement status, and complete the program in 2 semesters. It is also possible for MDesS students to "split" their last semester, same as some of the other GSD programs, and stay for 4 full semesters.

You can do a proper thesis as an MDesS. It is entirely up to the individual MdesS student if they choose to pursue a formal thesis. If you do not pursue a thesis, then you must instead pursue an extensive research paper or project to fill this program requirement.

The MDesS is a flexible program. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to pad your resume, but there are also plenty of opportunities for serious advanced study. The program is what you make of it. You have access to all of the same extensive resources of Harvard as the as the other GSD students.

Just some thoughts, hope it helps.

Sep 6, 09 8:03 pm

Thanks to everyone for your responses.

At first glance (when i looked into the program a few years ago), I found myself interested in the technology concentration. I'd assume the MIT programs are probably better for this option. But as i am doing some more current research, the new "Sustainable Design" concentration seems to have an interesting direction. looks like a mixture of sustainability / technology with more of a practical application. could be an interesting niche which i haven't seen done well at many schools.

a51abductee, which concentration did you pursue?

Sep 8, 09 12:29 pm

i have an m.des., did it when it was a one year program. i did my own independent study and wrote an extensive paper, took classes i really liked, and got a lot out of it [i was officially independent study but basically history theory].

i don't know about students in general, but i certainly know i had the respect of the faculty, who i am still in touch with. i did see some people that did it for resume padding, and just basically took easy classes, but those classes were also filled with m.arch.'s looking for easy classes as well. in the classes i took, the group discussions were excellent and whoever just wanted an easy grade left pretty quickly [whichever program they were pursuing].

any program you go to is largely dependent on what you put into it. do look at the mit smarchs, which are excellent. the best program for you will depend on what you want to specialize on... in any case, best of luck to you!

Sep 8, 09 3:06 pm
Cheyne Owens

whatever, some of the comments here are pretty foolish. aml is right, the mdes is short and intense (if you want it) and unlike an MArch II is not studio based so you can take time for research and writing. An important skill that most architects lack.

Other schools have similar programs.

Sep 10, 09 9:01 pm

I'm interested in research after so many years of design studio work, however, I'm not good at writing, and sadly got a 3.0 in GRE. Will it reduce my chance to get admitted to such research-based program. Will it be real hard if I can't do good writing?

Sep 17, 09 12:05 pm

I mean, will it be hard to participate in the program if I can't write well?

Sep 17, 09 12:07 pm

Not familiar with the program, but Harvard can afford to be selective. Wouldn't be surprised if a 3.0 doesn't cut the mustard, irrespective of the amount of writing and the quality assumed thereof.

Sep 17, 09 1:24 pm

Would love to hear an update on this program....

Sep 21, 12 1:15 pm

I was accepted in MDesS for History and Philosophy of Design (which is exactly what I am interested in) and was really excited. I did some further research today and learned that MDesS student still don't have it so well: Not only do the students not study in Gund Hall, they still don't have assigned and personal desk space (this is 100% different from MED program at Yale - where everyone plays in the same space in the Rudolph building.

I would really like to re-initiate this conversation. Has this program improved its standing throughout the GSD community (would a student in MDesS be looked down upon during Beer and Dogs)?

I was a bit surprised as well to find out that the final semester cannot be taken in the summer. Thus the student has to hang around boston for the summer not in school (not necessarily a bad thing!), but gotta come up with money for rent, thus a job is implied?

Do students get to choose to come back to finish their final semester in the fall or spring, or is the default automatically fall?

I find it hard to believe that people would spend $80,000 for a 'resume builder'??

I would really like to hear from recent grads or current students of both the MDesS and MArch II program at GSD. Please chime in with any comments.

Mar 5, 13 5:27 pm

Thoughts from an MArch II:

- They still don't have a desk space in Gund (although there are always some free desks that are distributed among MDesS students each semester - they are usually assigned to 2 or 3 students per desk). If not at the Gund Hall, you definitely have space at the library or some of the houses around the GSD (still not a personal desk though). 

- Never heard about the "final semester" issue you mention. I think it's pretty straight forward: you have your three-in-a-row semester program, so fall is your last semester, and then you graduate in may next year. If you split, you finish during the spring semester and graduate immediately. There could a problem if you are an international student and you end up splitting, because you might be forced to still finish your thesis in your third semester (fall) rather than the fourth (spring) in order to mantain your full time student status. Not sure about that anyway. It's important to note that there's a $500 splitting cost now (that will go up to $1000 next fall). 

- I've never heard anything about people looking down upon MDesS students. They are certainly among the most experienced students at the GSD, so if people have a generalized opinion about them it would be closer to admiration than anything else. And depending in your social skills, you'll get integrated to the "GSD" community pretty easily. You'll share with a lot of different students in your classes (from all the programs, depending in your interests) and you'll probably end up knowing a lot of guys (probably more MArch IIs or MLA II, since all the "I" programs are to some extent a little more closed, since they know each other for a longer time than the rest of the people at GSD).  The thing is you won't feel alone at Beer 'n Dogs, unless you want to. 

Bottom line, it's a pretty interesting program (thinking about doing one myself after marchII), there's nothing like a generalized despise towards MDesS, and you can be part of the GSD "community" as much as you want.

Mar 6, 13 9:06 am

I completed my five year B.Arch degree in May this year from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. I've been looking at pursuing a programme on the history / theory of design (and not purely architecture). I'm curious about the MDes. in History and Philosophy of Design; does it offer a good overall perspective on all fields of design? How does it compare to similar programmes at the School of Visual Arts, New York or the Royal College of Arts, London?

Any advice would be much appreciated! Cheers.

Oct 1, 13 4:19 am
MDesS replay

I'm glad that I've bumped into this blog. My opinion about the bullied condition of the  MDesS students, and ostracizing treatment many receive, seems here shared by others.

It's good to rise awareness about those aspects, but many things said here seems to me further bulling: even more shameful, as they enforce cognitive biases outside the school.

Call it "xenophobia of design-students against non-design-students" or call it "egomaniac and sleep-deprivation response", but it exists. The GSD sometimes admits "it's the school culture to bully who doesn't do design, as it's a design school". Other times they accuse those  who point out at these shortcomings to be negative and ungrateful. Take or Leave.

And if the school seems to do little about it, outside of the school, needles to say, people care even less. Therefore I always report "ohh it's been an amazing experience". But the damaging impact it had on my life and career it's still strong, and the usual reaction of others it is at best indifference, but mostly a laugh, as if I had done a foolish investment.

In defence of the program, I have however to say that the blog reports uncountable inaccuracies. The type of classwork varies between MDesS concentrations and between students. Not all MDesS "write papers" or "want to teach". And not all MDesS are like-minded with the design students, and the little interest for each other worlds is reciprocal.

Additionally, no one goes to Harvard with a 'resume builder' aim, which sounds like vanity, but to develop personally and professionally. I have achieved that, but in my case it also had the downside of a barrier to re-enter the job market for a few years, both in my background field than in others I have explored, and loved, thanks to the studies there. 

To conclude: for info about the program, I'd say refer to official sources, as each MDesS has a different program. About the school culture and the career impact: be prepared!

May 26, 14 8:45 am

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