There comes a time in your university education when everything becomes a lot more research-focused. If you’re keen on pursuing a career in academia, then research degrees are just the ticket to help you on your way.
PhDs or DPhils…
When you first hear the phrase ‘research degree’, PhDs or DPhils are usually the first things that spring to mind. A PhD is essentially all about doing a piece of original research on a specific topic. At the end of your PhD (they usually last for three years), you will be required to hand in a substantial doctoral thesis, which should be worthy of publication and should add something new to the field of study.
Some PhDs do have taught units, but the main emphasis of the PhD is on the doctoral thesis. Professional doctorates (i.e. more vocational PhDs in areas such as engineering, business and education) usually have a substantial taught component, but still have a research element to them as well.
Masters Degrees by Research…
If you think you’ll be doing a PhD in the future or are looking for a career in research then a research master’s degree is a good alternative to a taught master’s. Although it still contains taught components, 60% of the master’s degree is focused on an individual research project. In short, all that independent research is a good trial run for a PhD.
An MPhil is similar to a PhD, but lower in the academic pecking order. Instead of completing that gargantuan 120,000 word research project, it usually involves conducting an individual research project of around 30,000 to 35,000 words. It is still well respected, but you won’t get to put those little ‘Dr’ letters in front of your name. Most students register on MPhil courses for a year, and then transfer to a PhD after meeting the set requirements.
You’ll need plenty of dedication and self-discipline to embark on a research degree; even more than you would for a taught degree. Indeed, you’ll need plenty of motivation to see you through those long periods of independent study. Funding your postgraduate studies will also be an issue and you’ll need to work out if you feel comfortable dedicating a further three years of your life to academic study.