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Taught vs Research Masters: What's Your Perfect Match?


The exhaustive and sometimes mind-boggling array of different masters programs can make you yearn for the blissful simplicity of undergraduate life, where you picked a subject and that was generally that. At first glance there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason as to why one university’s MA is another’s MSc, and what the hell is an MIM? (A Masters in International Management incidentally, though Google deems it unusual enough to come below Arizona’s Musical Instrument Museum of the same acronym. Make of that what you will...)

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However incomprehensible the letters themselves seem they can, for the most part, be disregarded. What is much more important is the course content and structure, which is the key factor to consider in your choice. Given the time you will devote to your postgraduate program and the money you will spend on this decision it is worth getting it right! 

Here at Postgrad.com we’ve made your life that little bit easier by sifting through the maze of information and boiling it down to the bare essentials, because we’re nice like that! This guide will take you through the important details of different masters courses to help you decide which is the best postgraduate program for you.

The main thing you need to know is that pretty much all masters degrees can be divided into two general camps:  taught  and  research. Although these distinctions are not absolute and many courses will involve both, the course description for any masters program at any university will make it clear which one is dominant. Once you’re armed with this information, and a healthy amount of self knowledge, you should be able to make the initial call about  which is your type. But just to be even more obliging we’ve compiled some helpful pointers to get you on your way.

Taught Masters

As the name suggests, much of your course will be based around lectures, seminars and tutorials. Unlike studying at undergraduate level, it’s common for masters students to be expected to present and lead group seminars, which may sound horrifying but is a skill that improves with each time you do it, trust us! Assessment-wise you’re likely to have exams during/at the end of the year. Also you may have to complete work during the year that is not assessed to show you’re on top of things (ie not spending too much time sleeping!).

The majority of taught masters programs include a research element as well, a dissertation or extended essay or some such piece of work. Some universities also offer a Research Methods course, sometimes compulsory, that is taken alongside the masters. It is advisable to check if this is the case at the places you are applying to, as it is an extra workload consideration. However it can also be a positive addition to your masters experience; for example if you plump for a taught masters and then decide you want to do a PhD you will still have the necessary research skills from this course.

The advantage of this type of course is that it can be a useful transition period if you are thinking about a career in academia but haven’t yet decided on an area of research, and for those with less experience of self study it’s a way to ease in to a more independent way of learning. If you intend to end your academic career with your masters the structured timetable of a taught masters is more reminiscent of undergrad studies, and so is arguably less of a gear change if you only have a year or two to spare on your postgrad degree.

Research Masters

Again, self-explanatory would be the word to describe this type of course. Assessment takes the form of a dissertation and/or marked essays throughout the year, and the number of exams will be limited if any. 

Evaluation is generally more continuous than on a taught masters, so would suit those who prefer to get their grades as they go along to having to wait until the end of the year.

Of course there is also the principal consideration of whether you are self-motivated enough to drive your own work; research masters often have seminars and lectures as well but they do not form the structure of assessment in the same way as they do in taught masters.

However if you already have a research proposal in mind and are champing at the bit to develop original ideas of your own, have a go at it! The discipline of time management and digging up sources from all over the place will also provide an excellent training for those hoping to progress to the next stage of academia: the  PhD.

 

In Conclusion

Deciding which kind of masters program you want to pursue is half the battle; once this choice is made you start whittling down the potential field of courses on the road to finding The One. Add the choice of subject area and university into the mix and you’ll find a match that’s compatible.

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