Postgraduate studies offer a wide range of opportunities for students looking to further their education and career prospects.
Choosing the right postgraduate programme can be overwhelming, especially when faced with the choice between taught and research-based master’s degrees.
While both options lead to a master’s degree, they differ significantly in their approach, content and outcome.
Taught master’s programs are structured, classroom-based courses that provide students with in-depth knowledge and practical skills in a specific subject. Research-based master’s programs, on the other hand, focus on cutting-edge research in a particular field and are designed to equip students with advanced research skills and expertise.
In this article, we explore the differences between taught vs research masters programmes, to help you decide the best path to pursue based on your interests and career goals.
Taught masters vs research masters – what’s the difference?
Postgraduate students can choose between two main types of master’s programmes: a taught master’s and a research master’s. The differences between these two types of programmes can be seen in their:
- assessment methods,
- and overall focus.
|Differences||Taught Masters||Research Masters|
|Structure||Fixed and structured timetable||No set timetable|
|Curriculum||Modules and seminars||Independent research|
|Balance of Courses and Research||2/3 taught courses, 1/3 research project||Majority of effort in a research project|
|Assessment||Final project or exam||Dissertation based on research conducted|
|Focus||Broader understanding of specific field||Deeper insight into a particular research area|
|Examples||Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip), Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert)||Master of Research (MRes), Master of Philosophy (MPhil)|
Taught master’s, also known as coursework or postgraduate taught degrees, typically have a fixed and structured timetable.
These programmes include a structured curriculum with modules and seminars that aim to provide students with a broader understanding of a specific field.
The proportion of taught courses and research projects in a taught master’s programme is normally 2/3 taught courses to 1/3 research project. Examples of taught master’s degrees are Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip), and Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert).
On the other hand, research degrees, also known as masters by research, focus on independent research in a particular area of study under the guidance of a supervisor.
These programmes have no set timetable and research is the primary focus.
The proportion of research projects and taught courses in a research master’s programme is reversed from a taught master’s with the majority of the effort being in research projects. Examples of research master’s degrees are Master of Research (MRes) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil).
The assessment methods also differ between the two types of programmes. Taught master’s programmes generally require a final project or exam, while research master’s programmes culminate in the submission of a dissertation that is solely assessed based on the quality of the research conducted.
Should I study a taught or research masters degree?
Choosing between a taught or research Masters ultimately depends on individual preferences and goals.
A taught postgraduate course generally focuses on providing a structured programme based on pre-existing knowledge and skills, leading to a diploma or MSc certification.
On the other hand, a research postgraduate programme, such as an MRes, emphasises research skills and independent study, leading to a research-based qualification.
If one prefers to study in a traditional classroom setting and wants to acquire further knowledge in a specific area, a taught course may be more suitable.
If you are more interested in becoming an expert in a particular field and honing their research skills, then a research Masters may be more appropriate.
It’s important to consider your career goals and choose the programme that best aligns with those aspirations.
What about the other types of masters degrees?
Apart from the popularly known MBA (Master of Business Administration), there are several other types of masters degree available.
Some of the common ones include MSc (Master of Science), MRes (Master of Research), MPhil (Master of Philosophy), and various other taught or research masters.
|Type of Master’s Program||Acronym||Focus||Research Component||Teaching Component||Example Courses||Suitable for|
|Master of Science||MSc||Scientific fields & some social sciences||Varies||Predominant||MSc Immunology and Immunotherapy, MSc Environmental Science||Students seeking knowledge and skills in a specific field|
|Master of Research||MRes||Research in various subject areas||Extensive||Lesser||MRes Cancer Sciences, MRes Ancient History||Students considering a career in academia or research-based roles|
|Master of Philosophy||MPhil||Research, often a step towards a PhD||Exclusive||None||MPhil in Archaeology, MPhil in Mathematics||Students focused on research, often leading to a PhD|
|Other taught or research masters||Varies||Wide range of subject areas & industries||Varies||Varies||MA Ancient History, MSc Political Science, MSc Marketing||Students looking to gain specialized knowledge or skills in various fields|
MSc programs are popular among students looking to advance their knowledge in a scientific field, such as engineering, medicine, or environmental science. For example, the MSc Immunology and Immunotherapy program at the University of Birmingham focuses on subjects like cancer genomics and immunology, providing a balance of taught elements and research opportunities.
MRes programs, on the other hand, focus on research, preparing students for a career in academia or research-based roles in industry.
For instance, the MRes Cancer Sciences program at the University of Birmingham allows students to spend about six to seven months working on a research project after completing their taught modules, providing extensive hands-on experience.
MPhil programs, like the MRes, are often seen as a stepping stone towards a PhD and are mainly research-based. They may involve rotations between different projects, with the final project often leading to a PhD topic.
MPhil programs sometimes stand alone as qualifications, but they usually involve no teaching elements, consisting solely of independent research projects.
Other taught or research masters cover a wide range of subject areas and may focus on specific industries or have a broader perspective. For instance, there are masters programs in ancient history, archaeology, political science, marketing, and communications, among others.
Postgraduate studies are a great way to gain specialized knowledge and develop professional skills, making a taught or research master’s degree a valuable qualification for various career paths.
When considering a postgraduate program, it is important to research the course details and seek advice from current or former students to ensure it aligns with your future goals and interests.
Is there a tuition fee difference between taught vs research masters?
There is typically a difference in tuition fees between taught and research masters programs. Taught masters programs, such as MSc degrees, are structured around coursework and are usually completed within one to two years.
They often require more resources, such as faculty time and classroom space, which can drive up the cost. In comparison, research masters programs, like MRes degrees, focus on independent research and usually have less contact time with professors, which can result in lower tuition fees.
Taught masters degrees may be more affordable than research masters due to their structure and the prevalence of such programs.
It is essential to research and compare the costs and benefits of each type of program and consider how it aligns with one’s personal and professional objectives.
Wrapping up – taught and research masters
Postgraduate students have a choice between two main types of master’s programs: taught and research-based. Taught programs are structured, classroom-based courses, while research-based programs focus on independent research.
The decision to choose between a taught or research master’s program ultimately depends on individual preferences, goals, and career aspirations.
It is important to carefully research and compare the costs and benefits of each type of program and consider how it aligns with one’s personal and professional objectives.
Key takeaways include:
- Taught master’s programs are structured, classroom-based courses, while research-based programs focus on independent research.
- Taught programs provide a broader understanding of a specific field, while research-based programs offer deeper insight into a particular research area.
- The decision to choose between a taught or research master’s program depends on individual preferences, goals, and career aspirations.
- There is typically a difference in tuition fees between taught and research master’s programs.
- the need to consider individual preferences and career aspirations,
- the difference in structure and focus between taught and research-based programs,
- and the difference in tuition fees.
Postgraduate studies offer a valuable opportunity for students to gain specialized knowledge and develop professional skills, making a taught or research master’s degree a valuable qualification for various career paths.