The Student Room Group

MRes - Is it offered in any discipline?

Some universities like LSE, Exeter and Glasgow offer so called MRes, id sunt Master of Research programmes that represent a pathway to a PhD. The Exeter MRes in Economics involves completion of eight 15-credit bearing modules (Micro- and Macroeconomic Theory, Mathematical Methods, and Econometrics 1 & 2) in the first year and four further 15-credit modules plus a 60-credit dissertation in the second. This is a refreshing difference from most UK masters programmes that require students to complete 180 (!) credits in just one year. I have not yet spotted many MRes programmes in other subjects like maths, physics, chemistry, etc that allow students to engage in thorough (taught) postgraduate coursework before advancing to their PhD studies. This is rather different from the US, where PhD programmes encourage all students to complete two years of coursework building up on what was covered in four years of undergraduate studies (and it is not true that modules at US unis always cover syllabi less advanced or sophisticated than in the UK - I spent a year abroad at UFl and what I learnt there on mechanics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics in each of which I completed a year-long 30-credit module, demanded way more mathematical methods than the three subjects do at Scottish unis like St Andrews, Edinburgh, or UCL.

Why do so many students begin with their doctoral research right in the first year of their PhD programmes? Do they all have to teach themselves what our US peers are instructed proactively in modules?

Thanks for sharing your experience and opinions with me, mates.
What disciplines (if any) a uni offers an MRes in will vary from uni to uni. Not all unis offer them in all disciplines. Also sometimes they may have a different name (e.g. at Oxford the equivalent would be an MPhil normally, however at other unis the MPhil is usually a completely separate qualification - typically an exit award for a PhD that was not completed to the standard of a PhD or the student left early from).

In terms of the UK vs US PhD route they're really not directly comparable - they're totally different systems. The key difference is that in the UK for a PhD, students go directly into research, and will be applying to the PhD with a research proposal (or applying to a pre-existing funded project). In the US students may well not even have a specific research proposal when starting, and usually won't begin research until at completing the "quals" (qualifying exams) usually after 2 (or sometimes 3) years into the PhD. However by comparison US PhD programmes tend to incorporate a lot more teaching experience for the PhDs, and also usually (at least for most good PhD programmes) funding is offered as part of admission (whereas in the UK funding and admission are separate processes for a PhD and so one can be admitted to a PhD without funding! This also happens in the US but less so at "top" programmes, whereas in the UK it's the case everywhere).

In terms of content it's also important to understand the differences in undergraduate degrees and thus preparation for graduate study. In the US it's not necessarily that the content per class is "lesser" than in the UK, but due to the structure of US undergrad programmes students will normally have a lot less of those classes in their major area compared to a degree in the UK. As usually the first two years are fulfilling prerequisites (which UK students will have done through their A-levels) and general education requirements (classes in a variety of other subjects unrelated to the students major usually) before focusing primarily on their major(s) in the final two years. Whereas in the UK students will take material directly related to their programme of study from the start of the course all the way through usually with much more limited opportunity to take options outside of it. So UK students will typically just have covered a wider breadth of area even if the depth isn't necessarily different. However depending on the unis being compared the depth may be greater at one or another (Cambridge maths vs some random state college math major, or Berkeley math vs some random mid ranking university in the UK maths degree).

Thus in the US even if they have good depth in some areas, they usually don't have the full breadth that UK students achieve in a given area, hence will normally need to complete a programme of study in the first two years of the PhD. Also of note this is considered equivalent to masters level work anyway, usually US students are awarded a masters "en route" to the PhD once they complete their quals, and students with a masters in hand may have some of the coursework requirements waived in a US PhD programme. So it may be somewhat of an intermediate between a UK undergrad and UK undergrad + masters (or integrated undergrad masters), depending on subject area.

Also of note - many PhD programmes in the UK (outside of STEM fields anyway - especially in humanities fields) do actually require a masters to be considered in the first place anyway. So the expectation would simply be between the undergrad and masters the UK student has actually covered similar taught content to the first two years of a US PhD regardless. Even in STEM fields I gather it's more common for students to apply with an integrated undergrad masters (E.g. MPhys etc) than directly with a BSc.

Finally I'd note that at most unis PhD students are able to attend any taught classes they wish in their subject area (and sometimes beyond) subject to approval from their supervisor. When I was at SOAS for example the lecturer noted that PhDs are "free auditors" and unlike undergrad/masters students who may wish to audit a class who have to ask the lecturer permission, the PhDs don't have to ask permission and the lecturer cannot refuse them access. I believe it's similar at UCL as well. Incidentally this also seems to be the case in Germany (which have a similar PhD structure to the UK i.e. directly enter research, although they seem to have more teaching opportunities sometimes, but that PhDs can audit whatever classes they want and their supervisor may instruct them to attend specific classes relevant to their research).

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