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Types of postgraduate courses: vocational

When it comes to academic qualifications, there is a clear distinction to be made between taught courses and research-based courses. Taught courses are similar to undergraduate degrees in that they require students to study a predetermined set of taught modules, assessed by a mix of exams, research, and often practical exercises such as presentations.

Research-based courses require students to carry out a large amount of independent work towards the completion of a lengthy thesis. Generally speaking, research-based qualifications are more relevant to students seeking a career in academia than taught courses.

Master’s: MA, MSc, MEng

A Masters degree takes a year of full-time study, or two years if carried out part-times. The difference between studying for a Master’s and studying for a Bachelor’s degree is the intensity of the workload. Not only will you be expected to demonstrate a greater depth of understanding around your subject, but you will also develop a broader range of critical skills. Usually a Master’s course will be focused on a specific area within a subject, and will demand a thorough knowledge of current trends at the forefront of that discipline. In most cases, two thirds of the course is dedicated to teaching, and the final third is a period of independent study during which you must produce a dissertation that is generally between 15,000 to 25,000 words in length.

Research Master’s: Mres, Mphil A research Master’s differs from a standard Master’s in terms of how it is assessed. The majority of the marks are dependent upon your independent dissertation work. So the final project will generally have a larger word count than a taught Master’s dissertation. A research Master’s will typically take one to two years to complete full-time, or two to four years part-time. Many students who carry out an MRes or MPhil do so with the intention of continuing their studies to PhD level.

Doctoral research: PHDs

A PhD is the highest level of academic qualification for which you can enrol. You are usually required to complete a Master’s before you will be considered. After you have completed a PhD, you are granted the title ‘Doctor’, and are qualified to become an industry researcher. PhDs take three or four years to finish on a full-time basis, or between five and seven part-time. They involve contributing new knowledge to a particular field, by completing a well designed research project/ thesis that is worthy of publication. This can be 40,000 to 100,000 words in length. It is mostly an independent project but you will work under the supervision of an academic who is an expert in the subject, and will teach you research techniques.