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MPhil or PhD?

The MPhil is a less advanced qualification than the PhD in which the student is expected to master a content area and can be completed in two years' full-time study. The MPhil dissertation is normally shorter than the PhD thesis. It is often used as a training course in advanced research work, and can be a preliminary stage for the PhD where it is necessary to learn the fundamentals of research and acquire new techniques, although more and more the newly introduced MRes is being used for this pur­pose. The MPhil is also a legitimate higher degree qualification in its own right.

As with the PhD, it is not possible to spell out in bureaucratic detail what is required to obtain the MPhil in your subject now. You need to read successful dissertations in order to discover the standards expected. Here, but only in very general terms, are some ways in which the MPhil has been held to differ from the PhD.

A candidate for an MPhil must undertake an investigation but, com­pared to the PhD, the work may be limited in scope and the degree of originality. Considerably more emphasis is put on original work in the PhD and the PhD thesis involves greater depth than an MPhil disserta­tion. Greater synthesis and critical ability and also a more detailed investigation of any practical illustrations are expected from doctoral candidates.

The MPhil can be limited to the replication of research already pub­lished. It is also acceptable for secondary sources to be used. This means that for an MPhil it is legitimate to quote some authority quoting some­body else, for example, `Francis gives several definitions of originality (Phillips and Pugh 2005)'. This would not be acceptable for a PhD thesis where the candidate for the degree would be expected to have read and evaluated Francis in the original publication.

In addition, although a full summary of literature is required, it does not have to be an evaluative review as in the PhD. The difference here is in the breadth and depth of the review as well as in the amount of critical appreciation that is expected. In a high quality MPhil, evidence is required of the ability to test ideas; understand appropriate techniques; make use of published work and source material; and show familiarity with different theories and empirical studies.

Each university will have its own regulations concerning the MPhil degree and you must study carefully those which apply to you.

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