What's the catch with a master's by research?

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BourbonDodger
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#1
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#1
I am a second year literature undergrad, trying to decide what to do after I graduate. I really enjoy my course, and I did a lot better than I expected to do in my exams, so I'm considering continuing my studies with a postgrad degree. However, they are very expensive, and so I was looking for cheaper options, when I stumbled across the master's by research. These all have far more affordable tuition fees compared with taught master's. However, after trawling through the applicant data, it appears that almost nobody applies for these courses, at least compared with the regular taught master's degrees. Why is this? What's the catch?

See the following link for an example of one of these courses: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postg...sh-literature/

(I know that it says PhD English Literature, but if you scroll down it seems that the MPhil is a standalone course. Unless I'm mistaken, and the entire thing is one continuous degree. If so, what's to stop you taking your MPhil and running for the hills after a year?)
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QuentinM
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#2
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#2
(Original post by BourbonDodger)
I am a second year literature undergrad, trying to decide what to do after I graduate. I really enjoy my course, and I did a lot better than I expected to do in my exams, so I'm considering continuing my studies with a postgrad degree. However, they are very expensive, and so I was looking for cheaper options, when I stumbled across the master's by research. These all have far more affordable tuition fees compared with taught master's. However, after trawling through the applicant data, it appears that almost nobody applies for these courses, at least compared with the regular taught master's degrees. Why is this? What's the catch?

See the following link for an example of one of these courses: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postg...sh-literature/

(I know that it says PhD English Literature, but if you scroll down it seems that the MPhil is a standalone course. Unless I'm mistaken, and the entire thing is one continuous degree. If so, what's to stop you taking your MPhil and running for the hills after a year?)
Generally I'd say there are 4 names given to different masters degrees:
1) MSc (or likely MA in your situation), in which you do majority of your credits in taught modules, and do a large dissertation at the end
2) MRes or Master of Research, in which you do a larger dissertation (or several) with still a large chunk of your course being taught modules
3) MA by research/Master of philosophy (MPhil).

The last options are the ones you've stumbled upon. Both of these will typically be courses one-two years, over which you have to do a substantial dissertation. I can't speak for how they are doing for literature specifically as my background is in biological science-from what I understand, they are often listed with PhD's as in many institutions, they technically enrol PhD's onto MPhil's first, and if they make sufficient progress, they transition onto a PhD (and if not they exit "early" with an MPhil instead). This may be subject specific though.

Generally not a lot of people take on MPhil students as you would likely need to find a suitable supervisor and have them agree to take you on and supervise you over that period for several years (which many people wouldn't be willing to do). If you are more interested in research/dissertations than taught courses (you may not know this yet if you haven't done your final year dissertation) and ideally have some people in mind you would like to work with, MPhil's may be appropriate to look into
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2500_2
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#3
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#3
(Original post by BourbonDodger)
I am a second year literature undergrad, trying to decide what to do after I graduate. I really enjoy my course, and I did a lot better than I expected to do in my exams, so I'm considering continuing my studies with a postgrad degree. However, they are very expensive, and so I was looking for cheaper options, when I stumbled across the master's by research. These all have far more affordable tuition fees compared with taught master's. However, after trawling through the applicant data, it appears that almost nobody applies for these courses, at least compared with the regular taught master's degrees. Why is this? What's the catch?

See the following link for an example of one of these courses: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postg...sh-literature/

(I know that it says PhD English Literature, but if you scroll down it seems that the MPhil is a standalone course. Unless I'm mistaken, and the entire thing is one continuous degree. If so, what's to stop you taking your MPhil and running for the hills after a year?)
I've got an MPhil.
Really enjoyed it (basically spent a year immersed in the library basement looking at very old obscure journals). Supervisor was a fascinating retired professor who I saw about once a month on average. Viva was scary but satisfying.
Got to be honest though, it was pretty useless as far as career progression goes.

Edited to say: I applied straight to MPhil with a pretty detailed proposal (humanities subject, not English). At the time I had no interest in being part of others' research areas for a PhD and not enough money (or really inclination) for devoting that much time to it. I work in a sort of academic-adjacent profession now, it's on my CV but no one has ever commented on it either positively or negatively. Looking back I'm proud to have done research for research's sake and I loved doing it but it was a bit of a cul-de-sac.
Last edited by 2500_2; 1 year ago
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artful_lounger
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#4
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#4
Tuition fees are generally cheaper for research masters in "arts" subjects because you will be spending most if not all of the time on an extended research project, so there is little formal tuition taking place outside of meeting your supervisor. You could think of a research masters as a mini-PhD, or an extended dissertation.

That said some research masters courses (e.g. most MPhil courses not offered by Cambridge, where all masters courses, taught and research, are MPhils) are awarded as an interim/exit award for those studying for a PhD (e.g. if they are unable to/don't want to complete the PhD or they fail the PhD) and often don't typically accept applications for that course as the end goal. So "admissions statistics" may not be very telling in the case of those courses. Also often an MPhil (from somewhere other than Cambridge as above) may be viewed as a failed PhD, at least within academia.

Ultimately it depends on what you want to do with it and why you want to get a masters, as to whether it's worth it. If you want to use it as a stepping stone to a PhD because you didn't get funding this year, or aren't sure if you want to commit to a PhD or are unsure if your idea for a project is of the appropriate scope for a PhD but definitely is for a 1 year course, it might not be a bad thing. If you just want to "get a masters", the value of it may vary. If you are generally wanting to learn more about your field of study broadly, rather than engage in research in a specific area that you already have a proposal outlined for, it probably isn't an appropriate option.
Last edited by artful_lounger; 1 year ago
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BourbonDodger
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#5
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#5
(Original post by QuentinM)
Generally I'd say there are 4 names given to different masters degrees:
1) MSc (or likely MA in your situation), in which you do majority of your credits in taught modules, and do a large dissertation at the end
2) MRes or Master of Research, in which you do a larger dissertation (or several) with still a large chunk of your course being taught modules
3) MA by research/Master of philosophy (MPhil).

The last options are the ones you've stumbled upon. Both of these will typically be courses one-two years, over which you have to do a substantial dissertation. I can't speak for how they are doing for literature specifically as my background is in biological science-from what I understand, they are often listed with PhD's as in many institutions, they technically enrol PhD's onto MPhil's first, and if they make sufficient progress, they transition onto a PhD (and if not they exit "early" with an MPhil instead). This may be subject specific though.

Generally not a lot of people take on MPhil students as you would likely need to find a suitable supervisor and have them agree to take you on and supervise you over that period for several years (which many people wouldn't be willing to do). If you are more interested in research/dissertations than taught courses (you may not know this yet if you haven't done your final year dissertation) and ideally have some people in mind you would like to work with, MPhil's may be appropriate to look into
Thank you for the informative reply. I've got a fair bit of time before I have to make any concrete decisions, so I can mull it over for a bit.
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BourbonDodger
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#6
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#6
(Original post by 2500_2)
I've got an MPhil.
Really enjoyed it (basically spent a year immersed in the library basement looking at very old obscure journals). Supervisor was a fascinating retired professor who I saw about once a month on average. Viva was scary but satisfying.
Got to be honest though, it was pretty useless as far as career progression goes.

Edited to say: I applied straight to MPhil with a pretty detailed proposal (humanities subject, not English). At the time I had no interest in being part of others' research areas for a PhD and not enough money (or really inclination) for devoting that much time to it. I work in a sort of academic-adjacent profession now, it's on my CV but no one has ever commented on it either positively or negatively. Looking back I'm proud to have done research for research's sake and I loved doing it but it was a bit of a cul-de-sac.
That was what I was hoping the MPhil to be like (sans the lack of career progression). I didn't expect it to be a massive boon to my CV, but I'm glad that it seems to be a enjoyable experience.
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SportScience98
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#7
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#7
(Original post by BourbonDodger)
I am a second year literature undergrad, trying to decide what to do after I graduate. I really enjoy my course, and I did a lot better than I expected to do in my exams, so I'm considering continuing my studies with a postgrad degree. However, they are very expensive, and so I was looking for cheaper options, when I stumbled across the master's by research. These all have far more affordable tuition fees compared with taught master's. However, after trawling through the applicant data, it appears that almost nobody applies for these courses, at least compared with the regular taught master's degrees. Why is this? What's the catch?

See the following link for an example of one of these courses: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postg...sh-literature/

(I know that it says PhD English Literature, but if you scroll down it seems that the MPhil is a standalone course. Unless I'm mistaken, and the entire thing is one continuous degree. If so, what's to stop you taking your MPhil and running for the hills after a year?)
MRes - usually 135/180 credits for research projects, 30 for an academic topic and 15 for research methods.
MSc - 60/180 for a research project, 120/180 academic
MPhil - all research
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2500_2
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#8
(Original post by BourbonDodger)
That was what I was hoping the MPhil to be like (sans the lack of career progression). I didn't expect it to be a massive boon to my CV, but I'm glad that it seems to be a enjoyable experience.
What I did also achieve in that year was a growth of confidence in my ability to work entirely driven by myself and actually that has paid back many-fold.
I also did a lot of volunteering in what is now my profession, so the year itself helped my career significantly.
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SportScience98
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(Original post by 2500_2)
What I did also achieve in that year was a growth of confidence in my ability to work entirely driven by myself and actually that has paid back many-fold.
I also did a lot of volunteering in what is now my profession, so the year itself helped my career significantly.
I'm going for an MRes because I want to prepare for a PhD through getting that independent experience, but also want to progress academically and brush up on my research methods a bit (since I wrote a systematic review for my dissertation, and have to write a project this year).
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BourbonDodger
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#10
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#10
(Original post by artful_lounger)
Tuition fees are generally cheaper for research masters in "arts" subjects because you will be spending most if not all of the time on an extended research project, so there is little formal tuition taking place outside of meeting your supervisor. You could think of a research masters as a mini-PhD, or an extended dissertation.

That said some research masters courses (e.g. most MPhil courses not offered by Cambridge, where all masters courses, taught and research, are MPhils) are awarded as an interim/exit award for those studying for a PhD (e.g. if they are unable to/don't want to complete the PhD or they fail the PhD) and often don't typically accept applications for that course as the end goal. So "admissions statistics" may not be very telling in the case of those courses. Also often an MPhil (from somewhere other than Cambridge as above) may be viewed as a failed PhD, at least within academia.

Ultimately it depends on what you want to do with it and why you want to get a masters, as to whether it's worth it. If you want to use it as a stepping stone to a PhD because you didn't get funding this year, or aren't sure if you want to commit to a PhD or are unsure if your idea for a project is of the appropriate scope for a PhD but definitely is for a 1 year course, it might not be a bad thing. If you just want to "get a masters", the value of it may vary. If you are generally wanting to learn more about your field of study broadly, rather than engage in research in a specific area that you already have a proposal outlined for, it probably isn't an appropriate option.
Thank you for the sound advice. It sounds like I need to wait until I get back into my third year at uni to really decide anything. I'm starting my dissertation module in September, which will probably give me a better idea of what a postgrad degree entails (at least compared with my regular, more general undergrad modules). I suppose it comes down to two things:

1. I really enjoy studying my subject at university, and am fairly good at it (not to flex too hard), though I suppose it's too early to decide right this second if this will see me through a master's and potentially PhD.

2. I feel that I should take advantage of the government master's loans. The repayment plans are very generous, and I cannot see another opportunity where I'll have access to this kind of funding again. Especially given how cheap research master's are compared with regular taught ones. Even if I did ditch postgrad after a getting my master's, my wallet would be hardly hit at all, so it's not the end of the world.
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BourbonDodger
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#11
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#11
(Original post by conorellis42)
I'm going for an MRes because I want to prepare for a PhD through getting that independent experience, but also want to progress academically and brush up on my research methods a bit (since I wrote a systematic review for my dissertation, and have to write a project this year).
From what I've been reading, the MRes seems to be much closer in structure to a PhD than a regular taught MA. Or as artful_lounger put it, a 'mini-PhD'.
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SportScience98
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(Original post by BourbonDodger)
From what I've been reading, the MRes seems to be much closer in structure to a PhD than a regular taught MA. Or as artful_lounger put it, a 'mini-PhD'.
An MRes might prepare you for a PhD better than an MA or an MSc yeah, and its about 70% research. I think there is still about 30% (ish) taught components, but you will be doing two research projects instead of the usual one that you'd do otherwise. An MPhil is closer to a 'mini PhD'
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artful_lounger
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#13
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(Original post by BourbonDodger)
Thank you for the sound advice. It sounds like I need to wait until I get back into my third year at uni to really decide anything. I'm starting my dissertation module in September, which will probably give me a better idea of what a postgrad degree entails (at least compared with my regular, more general undergrad modules). I suppose it comes down to two things:

1. I really enjoy studying my subject at university, and am fairly good at it (not to flex too hard), though I suppose it's too early to decide right this second if this will see me through a master's and potentially PhD.

2. I feel that I should take advantage of the government master's loans. The repayment plans are very generous, and I cannot see another opportunity where I'll have access to this kind of funding again. Especially given how cheap research master's are compared with regular taught ones. Even if I did ditch postgrad after a getting my master's, my wallet would be hardly hit at all, so it's not the end of the world.
That seems like a sensible plan; the dissertation will certainly give you a better idea of what a research masters will primarily entail. A taught masters will have more content similar to your current taught modules (albeit assessed at a higher level, and likely covering more sophisticated material), although will also have an extensive masters thesis (just not as much as an MPhil/MRes).

You could also look into the option of part-time taught masters courses; although not available at all unis, many do have part time modes possible. You can get a PG masters loan for part time masters courses as well, which might help you spread the tuition fees around and help pay for it alongside working. Of course you would really need a plan to support yourself in that time so, that may just change what problems you face rather than eliminating them.
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dukey2323
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#14
Hahhahaha I was literally in a Teams seminar when the GAO email popped up on my screen... I thought I was about to get rejected/accepted live on air :eek:

But the link doesn't seem to be working for the form, which sucks.

Also, I wouldn't read into it too much rn about what it reveals. I think it just most likely reveals that those who fall into low-income backgrounds or have said they are interested in extra funding would have been the ones to receive it.

I'm glad I'll get a shot at a means-tested bursary, even if there's only like 20-30 of them.
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