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Research Masters Degree Guide

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.

Applying for a Research Masters

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 2016, begin your search in September 2015.

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).

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.

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).

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.

Leave 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.

Writing a research proposal

Why do I need to write a research proposal?

The research proposal is an important part of the application process 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.

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.


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.