Sorry, what is an MRes?

“You mean a Masters?”


“But not an MA?”

“Yes. I mean, No, not an MA!”

What is an MRes?

I didn’t know until I started doing one last October. In the UK it’s a postgraduate degree, either full-time in a year or part-time in two.

The major difference between this and an MA or Msc is that there is NO taught component. No lecturers or seminars, but probably a handful of training courses. No coursework, no exams.

This is compensated for by putting all your efforts into doing plenty of primary research (more than you would in an MA/Msc) leading into a whopping dissertation / thesis (at least 30,000 words, you can get away with 10,000 on some other- often arts -Masters) and then a “viva voce” (by live voice) verbal defence against your examiners (usually two people, not your main tutor)

The main point is that it is more research heavy, and so good for going further into academia or other research intense occupations. An MA or Msc does require some demonstration of good primary research, certainly more so than an undergraduate degree: but I guess the focus is more on all-around knowledge and skills. With an MRes you can get a “Phd-lite” level of research skill in a lot less time: I guess you won’t be as ‘submerged in your field’ as a similar Phd would be, but you know how to do a similar quality of research, even if you haven’t applied it to as large, or as ‘real’ types of problems.

Ripping shamelessly from Wikipedia gives a good overview:

“This type of course is also useful if one is considering a career in the commercial world where research is a key focus but a PhD is not specifically required. Additionally, if one is unsure whether a PhD is right or not, a Master of Research degree can give the useful experience of what studying for a doctorate might be like, whilst at the same time allowing the student to earn a valuable Master’s level qualification.”

The excellent website should be on your radar. At the time of writing there were over 2,000 Phds advertised, compared to nearly 19,000 Masters courses and….. (drumroll)…. about 700 MRes courses.

My experience of doing an MRes?

1. I didn’t know it was an option, my tutors didn’t know it was an option at first, and I’m the first one they’ve supervised. This didn’t really cause any problems, but you know, don’t assume anything and be prepared to take responsibility for managing the whole thing from the get-go.

2. I had loads of primary research ready to use before starting. Now you have to be careful about effectively not plagiarizing yourself, but you can draw on existing work with justification. My approach was to take this data and run with it in a different way, adding in new secondary sources to address a different problem. It’s not hard to find big wedges of data lying around nowadays, so don’t break your back concocting something that is *basically* the same as data someone else has already done. (A good rule for any type of research)

3. Given how much writing you’ve got to do, the pressure on time to get out there and ‘do’ new research is pretty hard to manage. But then that’s part of the point, and something your examiners (and future funding bodies) will want to see. The ‘real world’ nature of the research is pretty important from what I can tell: maybe as such they are better suited to anything with a more tangible output than ‘pure research’. Looking at, I would say the bias is towards humanities, social sciences, languages, life sciences – less so arts, business, engineering. This is hardly conclusive though, just my observation. (You see, putting that critical training to good use already)

4. Who’s going to pay for it? As with Phds, all sorts of funding arrangements are available: fully funded + living, fees paid, or self-funded. It pays to be well informed, as mentioned earlier, many people don’t know it’s an option. For the institution, it could be a good way to build their post-graduate credentials and getting some good data, findings or papers out of you in a much faster and easier to manage package than a Phd.

5. My one was fees paid, no expenses, no bursary and full time. It was / is still a huge, collosal, massive pain in the arse to try and work and lead a normal life while supposedly putting in 40 hours a week on the MRes. Because a lot of the primary research was done, this gave me a good amount of slack, and indeed was a good prompt for them to come forward to pay the fees and get me started. I think everyone has their own approach to this kind of project, so figure out what works for you and be honest with yourself when you are slacking off. On the other hand, part-time is not neccesarily the best choice, you just have twice as long to put things off while your central argument potentially gets gradually more out of date. It depends on the type of research you’re doing as well: maybe you’ll have tons of writing up to do, maybe you’ll just be able to say “Look, it worked. I rock”. The point is there is a lot of work for a single person to do and it’s hard to choose do work on this nebulous beast of a job instead of something that keeps your fridge full of more than just cold air.

6. Just because you haven’t “got” lectures and seminars doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be going to them: conferences, training days… especially while you still have the chance for student discounts or free courses you should rack a few up to round out the CV a bit. Or go and volunteer with a journal/magazine/think tank that you respect. My MRes had about 5 compulsory (half day) courses, some better than others, and that was it. You can do as much ‘fancy book-learnin’ as you want, indeed I would love to be locked in the library for a week or so, but sometimes you gotta get out and do something like (urgh) “build a pro-postive network of interlocuted sentiment-based career expansion nodes.” if you want to get a job afterwards that is… networking… *shudder*

7. It’s not a Phd! Far be it from me to reccomend anyone lower their ambitions, but you and your tutor should have a good idea of the amount of work involved. You aren’t expected to revolutionise your field, indeed, even a Phd is not really expected to do this either. They have three years for a reason, and you have one. You aren’t going to solve “all the problems”, but you might get a few – done well and handed in on time as well. Originality is less important than execution here: go and write a paper or present your findings somewhere if you want to do ‘exploring’ instead.

8. An MRes is a good step towards a Phd, arguably a better step than any other Masters – BUT – there are still opportunities to go straight from a BA to a Phd (generally a first but I have seen some advertise for upper second). Maybe they will be four-year courses rather than three, and maybe you could rely on real-world experience instead of a Masters. Having said that, I’ve never met anyone whose actually done this. Indeed, there are four-year courses available that do an MRes first and Phd afterwards: presumably to sift out those who can’t hack it.

9. Phds are longer for other reasons: you get time to really ‘settle in’ to the world of research, join all those societies, do conferences and things, get some teaching experience, work on a range of projects, meet lots of fellow researchers. You don’t get that with an MRes, you might see your tutor 10-20 times over the course of the whole thing, and by definition, you generally don’t have any coursemates. To quote Kim Jong-il, it gets a bit ronery. Having said that, some people experience a Phd in the same way.

10. Providing you don’t actually submit the thing, you can turn it into part of a Phd and start doing that instead. So I’ve heard anyway. Vice versa, if you are doing a Phd and, for want of a better word “balls it up” they can award you an MRes or an MPhil instead. (Apologies to anyone actually aiming for an MPhil, apparantly some people do opt for it, they aren’t all failed Phds.)

11. Did you read those numbers earlier? Only about 3% of all Masters courses are MRes! That means you get to be that jerk who goes:

“Oh yah, an MRes, not many people have heard of them, but it was SO the right thing for me… I mean, a TAUGHT masters? How old am I, twelve? Fnar fnar. You see I had to build on my extensive catalogue of pre-existing research, but a Phd would be like, such a drain on my time? Obviously I’m amazing at research but I’ve got shit to do, you know…”

Probably just me.

Finally at the risk of sounding like a shill for (which I am not. Currently! wink) I will just say it again: go there, it’s a great website.
I could link to all but this one seemed appropriate given my current circumstances.

This post prompted by talking to @JennieThinks and @NathanHuman

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