Postgraduate Study
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The MSc by Research - Not just a 'stepping stone' to a PhD

The Master's by Research (MScR) degree is often thought of as simply a stepping stone towards PhD study. In this blog post, we explain why that's simply not the case - an MScR can enhance your career prospects across a range of industries.

What’s the difference between an MSc and an MScR?

Masters by research student working in the lab

The MSc (Master of Science) and MScR (Master’s by Research) qualifications are both different forms of a Master’s degree.

Taught Master's (MSc) 

An MSc is a taught Master’s degree which is typically delivered over the course of one year through a combination of lectures, tutorials and seminars, as well as practical and lab work.

Although there are elements of research work within an MSc, particularly during the dissertation stage towards the end of the degree, an MSc student learns primarily through taught methods. Therefore, the general structure of a Master’s degree consists of a number of taught courses, followed by the submission of a dissertation.

Master's by Research (MScR)

A Master’s by Research (MScR) degree has a slightly different structure. The MScR is a research degree which is supported by a certain number of taught modules.

It still requires the student to submit a dissertation at the end of the year. However, the exact structure of MScR programmes can vary within institutions.  

For example, at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, some of our programmes split the year up into two different halves, with the first half devoted to teaching modules (much like the MSc) and then the second half comprising full-time research.

On the other hand, some programmes offer a year-round research project which is then supplemented by teaching throughout the year.  

However, despite occasional differences in the way an MScR may be structured, it’s safe to say that, in comparison to the MSc, students on Master’s by Research programmes will have a longer period of time devoted to intensive research.


Why is an MScR usually considered to be a ‘stepping stone’ towards a PhD?

The Master’s by Research is a full-time, one year research degree that gives students an excellent insight into doctoral study.

Students are introduced to research methods and skills which will help prepare them for life as a PhD student and, therefore, the MScR degree has traditionally been viewed as a useful ‘stepping stone’ towards full doctoral study.

Developing research skills

An MScR is an excellent choice for people who are already fairly certain that they would like to pursue academic research as a career path.

This is because you are more likely to be asked to contribute to conferences and journal papers in your supervisor’s lab, while engaging in independent research which will hopefully help to strengthen your passion in a particular subject area.  

However, an MScR is also good preparation for a career in industry or an allied profession that requires an understanding of research methods (e.g. scientific writing).


msc by research student working in lab

What if I complete an MScR but decide a PhD isn’t for me?

Don’t panic! Although many MScR graduates move straight on to PhD study, some students decide that full-time academic research simply isn’t for them.

As stated above, there are plenty of people out there who use a Master’s by Research degree to move into careers outside academia.

So if you find yourself in a position where you don’t think that a PhD is for you, then don’t fret – you will have earned a highly valuable and respected Master’s degree that will set you apart in the jobs market.

You will also have developed an excellent range of transferable skills to enhance your career prospects across a wide range of industries.


How will a Master’s by Research benefit a future career outside academia?

As well as developing key skills, a Master’s degree (whether MSc or MScR) is an excellent way to extend your professional network.

Industry contacts

If you decide not to go down the academic route, you will likely find that your Master’s by Research has still provided you with lifelong contacts in science and medicine.

Conferences, poster days and society events all provide opportunities for Master’s students to make important connections. These kinds of networks could prove invaluable, even if you decide to make the switch to a more industry-based role.

Earning potential

Furthermore, many studies suggest that earning a Master’s qualification will increase your earning potential. Although it’s not a guarantee, having a Master’s degree (MSc or MScR) on your CV makes it more likely that you’ll earn a higher salary.

Statistics show that full-time employed, working-age postgraduates in the UK had an average salary of £39,000 in 2017, compared with £33,000 for working-age undergraduates.*

*Graduate labour market statistics, 2017


What’s it like to study an MScR at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine?



Related Links

Master's by Research degrees - College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

MSc by Research at the University of Edinburgh

What's the difference between a PGCert/PGDip/MSc?