What Is An MPhil Student? A Definition

MPhil students are among some of the most misunderstood postgraduate students, and those outside of
academia often think an MPhil is an MSc degree in Philosophy rather than an advanced research degree known as a Master of Philospohy. Others within academia might see MPhil students as PhD students who haven't completed their doctorate and has instead left with 'just' an MPhil. But, an MPhil is a valuable postgraduate qualification that many employers are looking for when hiring people for jobs such as researchers or other areas of academic study. 

Part time or full time? 

MPhils can be studied on a part-time or full-time basis, with some students who don't have the funding in place undergoing an MPhil on a part-time basis before beginning a PhD. Most MPhils take 15 months to two years on a full-time basis to complete and this is because of the research element of the masters compared with a traditional one-year full-time masters course. This means that an MPhil will usually take around 27 months to four years to complete on a part-time basis

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MPhil students are any age

The research nature of most MPhil degrees means that it often attracts more mature students and because you will require the research and study skills gained during an undergraduate degree, all MPhil students are usually graduates. This means that many, but not all, students are in their early twenties as the average age to gain a PhD in the UK is between 26 and 27

They're conducting research 

Most MPhil students are conducting research and using it as a stepping stone to starting a PhD, but this is not always the case. Some MPhil students are conducting a year or two’s worth of research and do not to wish to continue with a PhD, whilst others have begun a PhD but do not wish to continue with their research. This means that an MPhil student will be putting long hours in the lab or library, but unlike a PhD student, it's unlikely that they will have positions assisting or teaching. 

Sometimes MPhil students are on a taught course 

At the University of Cambridge most of the masters courses are referred to as an MPhil and they have two types of MPhil. One is an MPhil by Advanced Study and the other is an MPhil by Research. In the UK this is not a common way of differentiating between masters courses. Most institutions only refer to a qualification as an MPhil if the student has completed substantial research on a topic and a Masters by Research is a separate qualification. However, there are countries, like Pakistan, where the entire university system uses the term MPhil. There it indicates that a taught course had a large research element to it. Some employers look for people with the unique set of research skills that are gained during independent research, but perhaps do not require someone with the specialist knowledge gained during a PhD. 

There’s not a lot of them about

An MPhil used to be more commonly studied by those wishing to enter academia in subjects such as History. However, in recent years this tradition has been replaced by students completing PhDs before finding their first teaching position. This is the unique part of being an MPhil student is that there are not many of you around, so you might find that you are part of a small community. It does depend on the institution that you are attending as places such as University of Cambridge or Oxford may have more MPhil students than other institutions because of ancient traditions. This doesn't mean that the qualification is less valuable and you may find that MPhil students are studying interesting and varied topics. Some may be experts in their own fields who wish to take time to increase their understanding through personal research and others might be students who are not quite sure if a PhD is the right route for them.

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