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What Does It Take To Get A Research Masters?

Fresh out of undergrad studies and highly confident in your research abilities, you are considering applying for a research master’s course in the UK. However, you haven't got a clue what getting a research master’s actually involves. To solve this mystery for you, we’ll tell you in a few basic steps what it takes to become a “Master” by research. However, please be aware that research master’s courses in the UK vary in length as well as in their methods of assessment, so if you want to know specific information about your programme of interest, visit the university website.


1. Choose an appropriate research topic

The difference between a taught and research masters is that the latter focuses on a research project while requiring you to take a smaller number of taught modules. Although you will need to write a proposal outlining your plan of research in order to get accepted to a research-based masters program, it is highly likely that your actual research plan will considerably change once that you have started the course. This is because you’ll acquire new knowledge throughout the course and you will be able to plan a much better research project than when you first graduated. Your university will usually require you to finalise your research plan by the middle of your second term and to conduct your research during the third term.

2. Establish a regular meeting schedule with your supervisor

To make sure that you are developing your research project in the right way and that you’re not doing something that will make you fail, you will need to arrange regular meetings with your supervisor. Keeping in touch with the supervisor is also important because he/she will write you a recommendation letter if you decide to apply for a PhD. You must give your best to establish a high quality relationship with your supervisor in a relatively short period of time.

3. Take taught modules and attend seminars relevant to your research topic

As a research masters student you will still need to attend some taught modules, however they will usually be less important than for taught master’s students and their purpose is to help you make the best out of your research topic. Some of these modules will be assessed, usually through written essays or other assignments, whereas some modules will simply just your attendance. Besides the taught modules, your department will probably organise weekly seminars dedicated to cutting edge research in your field. You’ll benefit from attending those seminars that could help you structure your research topic.

4. Read plenty of journal articles and spend time in the university library

You will not be able to complete your research project unless you read a considerable amount of journal articles. Because the duration of your research masters course will probably be relatively short, you’ll be racing against time and trying to digest as much information as quickly as possible. Prepare to spend more than 50% of your life in the library – it will almost start feeling like home!

5. Write a thesis

A good thing is: research masters theses are usually much shorter than PhD theses. A bad thing is: You are much less experienced when writing a research masters thesis and the time pressure is much higher. However, whether your research works out or not isn’t that important for a research masters thesis – you really need to show that you can think coherently about your research topic and organise information in a logical way. Everything else will come during your PhD. Research masters theses are usually graded by two examiners chosen by the department, and unlike for PhD theses you will be assigned a specific grade instead of merely “passing” or “failing”.

6. Prepare to orally defend your thesis

In most cases, you will not need to orally defend your research masters thesis. However, if your examiners think that you are close to failing, you will need to have a talk with them and explain why you don’t deserve to fail. But don’t worry; this almost never happens if you do the right amount of work.