PhD Research: The Bigger, Badder Version of a Masters by Research
Whether you have just recently considered doing a PhD or you’ve been planning for it from the start, the jump from a Masters to a PhD is a big one. While there are some pretty obvious differences between a taught Masters and a PhD, you’ll find that the nature of research even changes after a Masters by Research (MRes).
An MRes degree emphasises on a student’s independent research and may seem very close to a PhD in a more concise structure. It is not wrong to think that an MRes is a good stepping-stone for a PhD, as it will train you in the appropriate research methods. You might also find yourself building on a research idea you first developed during your Masters.
If you’ve tackled a Masters by Research, it is safe to say you’re already adept in some ways to take a PhD head-on. There are, however, many ways in which a PhD will require you to step up even further. Here are just a few.
A long winding road with no definite end
Research at postgraduate level is designed to be niche and specific. If you’ve completed an MRes, you’re already familiar with how specific research is expected to be. Now, narrow your research field exponentially and you have a PhD ready research topic. Your PhD thesis will require more detail and contextualisation than an MRes. It will also need to be longer, around 80,000 words. The more time you spend on your research, it will continually get more specific and nuanced. Masters research can be said to have a more straightforward approach whereas there are probably more than one competing theories relevant for your PhD research topic, and no straightforward solution. Quite often a PhD student’s answer to a research question will begin with ‘Well. . . it depends’.
Your PhD research is your full-time job
Your primary focus during the PhD will be completing your thesis. It’s not wrong to say a PhD is the equivalent of a 9-5 job when students in the UK are told they are expected to spend 35-37 hours a week on their research. At an MRes level you would still continue to have a few taught modules. These usually concentrate on research related training which will help you along during your PhD as well. However, a PhD has no mandatory teaching and offers much more independence. Even though you will be putting most of your time towards your own research you also have the freedom to spend time on the occasional teaching (if mandated by your university), conference papers or research papers. With no set university contact hours, you have the freedom to build your professional portfolio along with your independent research.
Each stage of your PhD is different
Even though the 3-4 years of your PhD (5-7 years if you’re part-time) builds to a crescendo at the time of submission, a PhD research journey is more fragmented and staggered. Unlike during a research Masters, which seems to culminate quickly with a single submission, a PhD has more checkpoints (more opportunities for smaller wins!) along the way. From working on your upgrade report in your first year to actually writing your thesis in the last, a PhD will demand that you constantly keep changing pace. A PhD also gives you more opportunity to network and interact with other researchers through conferences or even putting on events. You’ll notice an emphasis on taking your research beyond the scope of your degree with training in outreach and publishing.
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