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MRes Degree (Master of Research) – The Complete Guide

MRes degree – the complete guideResearch masters degree programs are different from taught masters programs in that the emphasis is placed on the research element of the course, or an equivalent project with fewer taught modules to choose from.

Around 70% of the content of a Master of Research (MRes) is project-based with a focus on independent study, and the purpose of the MRes is to lead the student to a research career.

MRes degrees can be studied across a wide range of subjects, including the sciences, technology, humanities and the arts. The format of the MRes degree allows students to explore a topic in detail with in-depth independent research.

A Master of Research degree is ideal for students who would prefer to conduct their own research rather than continue with taught study, and it is a particularly good option for those who want to pursue a research career.

This article covers everything you need to know about studying a research-based masters degree, from what’s involved, how long it takes, how much it costs and how to prepare for MRes study.


What is an MRes degee?

A Master of Research (MRes) is a type of postgraduate degree that develops advanced research skills in a chosen discipline. This provides an introduction to high-level research methods, in addition to giving a firm foundation for those wishing to pursue doctoral study in the future.

An MRes degree can essentially give a student an opportunity to understand the nature and potential of a particular research topic through, for example, understanding the methodologies and ethics of conducting research. 

This degree can act as a good link between undergraduate and PhD level research, particularly if you are in the process of streamlining into your research discipline and at the same time are still undecided about committing yourself to becoming a PhD student straight away.

How many credits is an MRes degree worth?

An MRes degree is typically worth 180 CATS credits (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme), which is the same as a taught masters degree.

How these credits are distributed may depend on the course that you’re taking. For example, the research section of the course may award 160 credits, where 20 credits are awarded through training.

The research section of the MRes degree could be anything from one single dissertation to multiple small research projects. 

Check the breakdown of credits for the MRes degree that you’re considering, as well as what the research section entails, to make sure it’s the right course for you.

How long does it take to complete an MRes degree?

An MRes degree will usually take one year for a full-time student to complete if being studied at a UK university. Part-time students in the UK can typically complete their MRes degree in two years.

However, the duration of the MRes degree can depend on the course that you’re taking and where you’re studying, for example many MRes courses in Europe and the United States take longer than in the UK – often taking two years of full-time study.

How much does a MRes degree cost?

The cost of an MRes degree can vary depending on the university and the subject studied, however the average tuition fee cost for masters courses in the UK is around £11,000. 

There is MRes funding available through student finance and other funding sources, so check the finance options available at your chosen university to see if they offer any funding for your MRes degree in the form of scholarships and bursaries.

There are also various masters loans options available for students studying at UK universities. And don’t forget that once you’ve been accepted onto any masters program, including an MRes degree, you are eligible to apply for a Postgrad Solutions Study Bursary.

While sorting out the financing of your MRes degree it is important to also consider postgraduate living costs alongside your MRes study such as food, transport, utilities and study aids.

MRes Degree – The Complete Guide

Reasons why you should study an MRes degree

With an MRes degree, the focus is on developing an individual’s research skills and therefore, it builds a good grounding for postdoctoral study. Taught masters programs such as an MA or MSc are typically considered sufficient to develop a foundation to do a PhD (being the most common entry routes).

Yet, if one has the choice and is interested in pursuing research in a manner beyond your typical masters degree, then a research masters can be a preferable option.

Top reasons for choosing to study MRes degree are:

1. Fewer taught modules

An MRes degree program can be different from a typical masters degree as it focuses on a more in-depth and often large-sized dissertation on a specific research project, which means it could involve studying of fewer taught modules. This means the focus is narrowed down to topics that could potentially act as the foundation for your PhD thesis.

2. Getting trained in research approaches and methods

MRes degree is a kind of research-focused program that can have a major share of its study dedicated to project-based activities preparing students for a career in that direction. Often students can get exposed to basic up to advanced-level research methods, as well as instruction in research ethics and professional practice including writing proposals, making funding applications and publishing.

3. Progressing into PhD

Some universities may give the option of automatically progressing from MRes degree to a PhD program. However, this would depend upon the achievement of a minimum mark in the project activity, dissertation and taught modules. Additionally, the transition into a PhD can also prove to be more straightforward since an MRes student can be expected to be more aware of the level of research that would need to be put in.

4. Prepares students for wide-ranging career roles

The MRes degree is designed to prepare students for a career as an academic researcher, consultant, or in any industry where an understanding of research would be considered useful. There is also the added advantage with an MRes degree at the workplace, especially where the focus is being given to research practice and methods in preparing, for instance, reports or lengthy publications involving extensive research inputs. The skills gained from studying an MRes can come in handy for wide-ranging career roles.

How to prepare for a MRes degree

Fresh out of undergrad studies and highly confident in your research abilities, you are considering applying for a research masters course in the UK. However, you haven't got a clue what getting a research masters 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 as we’ve previously mentioned, research masters courses in the UK and worldwide vary in length as well as in their methods of assessment, so if you want to know specific information about your program 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 change considerably once 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 started the MRes degree. 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.

Make sure you choose a research topic that truly interests you and is original.  A great place to start is by reviewing the current literature and identifying any potential gaps in academic research.

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 basing your research around an unfeasible idea, you will need to arrange regular meetings with your supervisor. Keeping in touch with your supervisor is also important because they will write you a recommendation letter if you decide to apply for a PhD. You must try 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 (MRes) student, you will still need to attend some taught modules, however they will usually be less important than for taught masters 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 be 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 that a 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 actual research works out or not isn’t that important for a research masters thesis – what you really need to do is 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.

MRes entry requirements

MRes degree – the complete guideYour entry qualification determines which track you will follow if your application is successful. Candidates should ideally have, as a minimum, a first or upper second-class honours degree, or equivalent, in a closely related discipline. In addition, a strong research proposal and enthusiastic references can also be vital.

Applicants whose first language is not English must demonstrate that their level of English is appropriate to study at postgraduate level. The course may require IELTS with specified minimum scores depending upon the university. Please check the university's standard English language requirements before applying.

Applications should ideally include:

(a) an application form with a personal statement
(b) appropriate application fee where relevant
(c) transcripts
(d) list of the courses you are taking or will be taking this year under your current degree program
(e) academic references as mentioned
(f) GRE scores (wherever specified)
(g) evidence of your command of English: if English is not your first language or if the language of instruction of your entire previous degree is not English and
(h) a research proposal.

The general academic year for an MRes degree starts in September and ends in August of the following year, which means it is full time for one year, however it may be offered part time over two years.

Where can you study an MRes?

In the UK, an MRes degree is available in a range of academic fields.  Plenty of top UK universities including the University of Bath, University College London (UCL), London School of Economics (LSE), University of Birmingham and University of Wales Trinity Saint David offer MRes degrees as do universities across the EU, such as Tilburg University, Maastricht University and University of Amsterdam.

An MRes degree program is unique in so far as it gives a student the ability to get acquainted with research through a mixed bag of being taught about research and doing research.

What is the difference between an MRes, MSc and MA?

The main difference between an MRes, MSc and MA is the way that these masters courses are delivered. As discussed, an MRes degree is a research-based postgraduate course with the emphasis on independent study. Meanwhile MA and MSc programs are generally taught based with much more time spent on lectures, seminars and workshops.

MA and MSc programs still usually involve a dissertation requiring independent research, but MRes dissertations will be much longer (around 35,000 words compared to 12,000-20,000 words).

Read more about postgraduate degrees for a full overview of different types.

What is the difference between an MRes and MPhil?

An MRes degree and MPhil (Master of Philosophy) are similar in that they both involve research. The main difference between the two is that an MRes is specifically designed to train students in advanced research methods, whereas an MPhil is designed for students to undertake a research project.

Both types of postgraduate program are suitable precursors to studying a PhD, although an MPhil is a more traditional pathway for those students who know they want to go on to study a PhD and is often an actual part of a PhD program.

In some instances if a student is studying for a PhD and their research project is deemed to be too limited for this level of study they may be encouraged to change to studying an MPhil and become an MPhil student instead.

Can you combine an MRes and PhD?

Some universities offer a ‘1+3’ program that combines an MRes and a PhD. This means that an MRes is awarded after one year of study and a PhD qualification is awarded three years later.

What jobs can you get with an MRes degree?

An MRes degree is a great choice for students looking to go into highly skilled jobs and is an excellent addition to your CV showing future employers that you are able to achieve a high level of study and achievement.

MRes degrees give students the ability to be highly analytical and can give you a competitive edge when you are choosing a job in today’s competitive job market.

Industries and careers that may be highly suitable for MRes graduates include:

  • Medical science
  • Scientific advisor
  • Clinical research
  • Academic research
  • Research and development
  • Clinical trial management
  • Clinical data specialist

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