Research or Taught Masters? Postgrad Courses Explained

If you are considering postgraduate study , the vast number of courses that are available can at first be really confusing. This is problematic as choosing the right type of postgraduate course can help set you apart in the job market already saturated with undergraduate degree holders. The types of postgraduate degrees available vary wildly, but by choosing the right one you will not only play to your learning style strengths but also set yourself up well if you choose to do a PhD. By reading on you will find the types of postgraduate course that are available explained in an easy way, and realise it's not as confusing as you first think.

Taught Masters

Taught courses are by far the most similar to an undergraduate degree. This is because you will take a series of 'taught' courses and be assessed on them throughout the time of the course.

  • Full-time Taught Masters usually take one year to complete, although two year courses are not uncommon. (They can also be studied part-time ).
  • Involves modules taught by the university through lectures, seminars, laboratory work or distance learning.
  • Assessment is done through exams , group work, course work, projects, a dissertation, or a thesis. It all depends on the course you choose .

Mad Scientist

Research Masters

A Research Masters, as implied by the name, is a masters where you learn the bulk of the content through doing your own research. It is often seen as a better precursor to a PhD and as such many funding bodies for PhDs only award money to candidates with a Research masters. This is something to bear in mind if you wish to study for a PhD later on: however it does not mean that if you don’t study a Research Masters you won’t be able to do a PhD. If you’re interested in doing a Research Masters you must be willing to work independently. There is none of the hand-holding you’ll find in a Taught degree and you must fend for yourself to get the best Masters you can.

  • Full-time Research Masters usually take at least 18 months, with courses of 24 months and 36 months not uncommon. They can be studied part-time, but this usually takes longer.
  • Involves working under a supervisor to develop your own research proposal . You will spend the majority of your time collecting data, analyzing the results and working to get your research published.
  • Assessment is usually done by judging your research piece and by the conduction of a final oral exam on your research topic, known as a Viva .


But what do all the acronyms (MA, MSc, MRes) mean?

Masters all have different names, depending on their subject and the type of study involved. Below is a list of Masters degrees (and their acronyms) that you may find yourself studying.

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MSc)
  • Masters of Education (MEd)
  • Masters of Engineering (MEng)
  • Masters of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Masters of Music (MMus)
  • Master of Research (MRes)
  • Master of Research (MPhil), this is different to a MRes as it allows you to focus your study on a specific topic in depth and independently. It requires you to work on a title for a thesis and is seen as the precursor to a PhD .

Confusingly while MRes was once mainly a Research Masters degree, it is also increasing used as the final degree of a Taught Masters. Basically, the title of your degree doesn’t give you much of a clue as to what type of Masters it is. For that you’ve got to see the website of the university in question, which will tell you if your masters is a taught or a research masters.

So there you go. That’s the difference between a Research and a Taught Masters, and now you know what all those pesky acronyms mean!

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