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Masters by Research

What is an MRes?

In the UK, a Research Masters (MRes) is a postgraduate course available in a range of academic fields.

The MRes is designed to prepare students for a career as an academic researcher or consultant, or in industry where an understanding of research would be useful.

However, it differs from a taught Masters by placing particular emphasis on a large dissertation (usually between 35,000 - 40,000 words) in addition to several taught modules.

Therefore an MRes works on the principle that the ability to undertake research is acquired through a mix of being taught about research and actually doing research.

An MRes will give you a taste of a research environment and help you identify subject areas of interest should you wish to progress to a PhD programme.

How long does a Research Masters last?

An MRes in the UK usually requires at least one year of full-time study.

Some courses can be longer, and a part-time degree will normally last two years.

How many credits is it worth?

An MRes is normally worth 180 UK credits, most of which will be earned through research.

A typical MRes might involve around 160 credits of research work (in the form of multiple projects, or a single large dissertation).

This will be supplemented by around 20 credits of training.

Should I study a Research Masters?

The MRes is great if you want to gain research training.

This might be because you want to prepare for a PhD. Though an MA or MSc includes a dissertation, the MRes offers much more research experience. It also provides more extensive research training, allowing you to get going quickly when you start a PhD.

Alternatively, you may actually study an MRes because you don’t want to do a PhD. Many professions value research skills, but a full three-year PhD may not always be necessary. An MRes offers a shorter, more focussed, route into research.

However, an MRes might present a more challenging transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study. You’ll still have some guidance and support (and won’t simply be thrown in at the deep end!) but there will be a more rapid emphasis on independent work.

What are the entry requirements?

An MRes degree will have similar admissions requirements to a taught MA or MSc, the most important of which will be a Bachelors degree.

This should be in a relevant subject, with a good overall result (usually a 2:1 or higher).

In addition, you may also be asked to put forward a research proposal, or a personal statement describing your academic goals and interests.

Admissions tutors will want to know that you have the enthusiasm and motivation to complete a more independent program of study.

Which subjects offer a Research Masters?

You can study an MRes in any subject, provided it offers enough scope for research training.

Some universities distinguish between different types of MRes, mirroring the distinction between taught MA or MSc programs:

  • An MRes in Arts and Humanities subjects may be referred to as a ‘Master of Arts by Research’ (often shortened to MARes or MA (Res)).
  • An MRes in Science and Technology subjects may be referred to as a ‘Master of Science by Research’ (often shortened to MScRes or MSc (Res)).

What can I expect on my Research Masters?

Usually, you will choose a topic, be assigned a supervisor and then conduct an independent investigation before presenting a thesis of your findings.

The research required for an MRes is much more involved, and you may be asked to complete multiple research projects.

This is more likely for technical or professional subjects that require training in different types of research.

Alternatively you might just have to complete one large project.

If so, you can expect this to be much longer than the dissertation for a taught degree. Whereas an MA, for example, will usually require a dissertation of 15-20,000 words, an equivalent MRes project will be around 35,000 or more.

The academic scope of your research may also be more demanding, and although you won’t be judged by PhD standards, you may be expected to be closer to this level than an equivalent MA or MSc dissertation.

The advantage of this is that an MRes offers a full academic research experience. While the dissertation is a single (but significant) part of a taught Masters, your work on an MRes will make you a proficient and professional researcher.

After that, applying for and starting a PhD will become much easier.

How do I apply for a Research Masters?

When looking for a Research Masters course, there are a number of factors you should consider before making any final decisions.

1. Do your research

If you are considering applying for a Research Masters course, it's a good idea to start researching programmes up to a year before you intend to start the course.

For example, if you wish to start an MRes in September 2021, begin your search in September 2020.

This will give you plenty of time to thoroughly investigate all the Research Masters programmes that you think are potential candidates, and to narrow down your choices and make your final decision.

It will also allow you to put together carefully tailored applications, as well as sort out any required documentation, such as references and English Language tests (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS).

2. Check the entry requirements

Double check the application requirements for all courses you are considering applying to, as sometimes they may not be wholly clear, and therefore confuse you as to whether you meet the institution's criteria.

If this is the case, contact the admissions team for the programme and ask them to clarify the entry requirements.

3. Make sure your application is complete

For any application you make, be sure you have included all the necessary information before sending it off.

This includes your personal statement, references, undergraduate degree transcript, English language test results, and any relevant funding application form(s).

4. Talk to your referees

Be considerate of your referees and make sure you give them plenty of time to write you a reference.

Remember they are busy with their own lives, and you can not expect them to clear their schedule to write you a reference if you've only asked them a week before the application deadline.

Ideally, ask them at least a month before you are planning to send off your application - tell them a bit about the course you are applying to, and why you want to do it.

A copy of the course content, your personal statement and your CV may be helpful to them to write you a good reference.

5. Give yourself plenty of time

For some universities, you are able to fill in and submit your application online - however, if you have to post your application off, make sure you complete it in plenty of time for the mail service to deliver it before the application deadline.

It's worth contacting the institution you have applied to a week or so after mailing your application to make sure they have received it, as it could end up being lost or delayed in the mailing process.

Make sure you get your application in well before the deadline, as places on Master's courses are generally limited, and you don't want to miss out on being considered for a place on the course because all the spaces are already full.

6. Finance

As well as all the factors above, you will also need to consider how expensive the course is.  Fees can range from just over £3,000 to £10,000, or even higher for some management and highly specialised courses.

Money is likely to be a significant factor in making your final decision, so think realistically about how much you can afford to spend if you don't obtain a scolarship to help fund your studies. Make sure there is funding available from the department that you can apply for.

Higher fees tend to be charged on specialist courses or on courses from universities with an excellent reputation.

If you are trying to choose between different courses with different fees, think carefully about what you are actually paying for and whether it is worth paying extra for a specialist course, or for the name of the institution on your CV.

You shoud also think about your living costs once you start your course - generally the South is more expensive than the North. Living in London will require you to fork out a lot more for food, rent, and transport than living in York.

Take a look at our postgraduate funding section for ideas and advice on covering the expenses for your course.

7. Open Days

These are a great way of finding out more about where and what you will be studying - it's a chance to get a taste of postgraduate life at a particular university.

When you are attending Open Days, make it a priority to find out how the postgraduate community is treated.

Talk to as many postgrad students as you can and ask them what support they receive, how much, and are there any special provisions in terms of societies, resources or facilities?

Writing a research proposal

If you're applying for a Research Masters, you will have to put together a research proposal as part of the application process.

Why do I need to write a research proposal?

The research proposal is important for several reasons:

  • It allows the university to assess your application in terms of your readiness to undertake a research degree by evaluating your ability to put your knowledge and your own ideas together of your chosen subject, and how you communicate this to others.
  • MRes students commence work on their research project from the start of their programme of study - the outline research proposal provides a basis for this.
  • It allows the university to identify a supervisor with expertise in your chosen area.

The provisional proposal you provide with your application does not commit you to a set agenda of study from which you may never digress. It is likely you find your path of research changes anyway as your work progresses.

What should I include in my research proposal?

The university you are applying to will normally have guidelines on what you are expected to write in your research proposal for the course.

These may either be on their website or in a booklet of information about the MRes sent to you through the mail.

It's important to read these guideline notes carefully, as they vary slightly between different institutions.

However, you will generally be asked to include at least some of the following:

  • Statement of your research question and your objectives.
  • Other key questions and sub-questions you want to ask.
  • The research methodology you will use and your reasons for using these particular methods.
  • How your research is important and what gaps you hope to fill within current knowledge.
  • Identification of current developments in your chosen research topic.
  • A realistic time plan for carrying out all your research (i.e. make sure you can answer your research question within the time period allocated).
  • A short list of references to key articles and texts included in the application.

It is crucial that your proposal includes ample information on what you intend to research, and make sure it is well-written and that your ideas are communicated both clearly and concisely.

This is so that your application has the best chance of gaining the interests of the faculty members to whom you are applying to.

If you do not spend enough time drafting and refining your proposal, and submit a poorly written effort, it is very likely your application will be rejected.

The quality of your research proposal is very important, as the time you spend thinking about it and writing it will be useful in guiding your research when you begin your course.

It will also be the focus of discussions between you and your supervisor, as well as play a vital role in ganing acceptance on to your chosen MRes course.

Therefore it is well worth putting a lot of time and effort into drafting and polishing your research proposal before sending off your application.

How long should the research proposal be?

Universities will usually provide a word limit, though your research proposal will vary in length according to the academic discipline you are interested in.

Generally the proposal is required to be on average between one and two pages of A4.

What if I want to do a PhD afterwards?

If you know you want to continue to a PhD after your Masters you might want to think about a ‘1+3’ program, which combine a Masters and a PhD.

You will start by completing one year of Masters level work, followed by three years at PhD level.

UK universities usually offer these ‘joint’ programmes as fully-funded pathways, designed to develop prospective researchers.

The Masters year of a 1+3 programme is often an MRes course, taking advantage of the degree’s focus on research training.

Studying in this way will award you an MRes after one year of study and a PhD after four.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for a postgraduate course, please see: