MA, MSc, MRes, PhD, Eng D... different types of postgraduate courses

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:36

If you're at a crossroads between employment and further study, take the time to consider the huge variety of postgraduate courses on offer.

Two directional signs against a blue sky, one pointing left with the word "EMPLOYMENT," the other pointing right with "FURTHER STUDY."

From one-year taught courses to three-year research PhDs, choosing the right postgraduate course can give you the edge in a jobs market already crowded with first degree holders. Find out what's available, what's involved and which type of course will best suit your needs. When weighing up the pros and cons of going into work or further study remember that you need not limit yourself to just one of the two.

Take a look at the lists below to find a qualification and a study method that works around you...and your career. Once you've short-listed your favourites, it's a very good idea to have a chat with potential employers to find out how they view the qualification, or even the university, you are considering. Your main options are:

Taught courses

Master of arts (MA) or Master of science (MSc)

  • Taught courses most commonly come in the form of a masters degree
  • One to two years full time
  • Two to three years part time
  • Includes seminars, lectures, tutorials, project work, oral work, some research, a thesis/dissertation and exams. The balance between these varies.

Research degrees

Doctorates (PhDs)

PhDs can be started immediately after your first degree or a masters course. It’s more common for students of sciences than arts to start a PhD straight after an undergraduate degree. They involve research into a chosen topic under the supervision of an experienced academic.

  • Three to four years full time
  • Four to six years part time
  • Considered very intellectually challenging
  • Includes a thesis of around 100,000 words and usually an oral presentation.

An EngD (engineering doctorate) is an alternative to a PhD for students looking for a career in engineering. Like those studying for a PhD, EngD students will conduct in-depth research. However, they will also spend up to 75% of their time gaining direct experience in the industry by working for a company.

Masters programmes by research (including MSc, MPhil, MRes)

These are known as MRes (master of research), MPhil (master of philosophy), MSc by research or MA by research. Put simply, these are masters programmes that rely heavily on your own private research, supervised by an experienced academic.

  • One to two years full time
  • Two to four years part time
  • Usually involves training in research methods, but less teaching than a taught masters
  • Similar in structure to a doctorate, only shorter
  • Includes the production of a thesis and usually an oral presentation
  • Good preparation for a PhD
  • Fees usually lower than for taught masters.

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