What is an MPhil Degree? Master of Philosophy explained

Welcome to our comprehensive blog about the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree.

The Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is a postgraduate degree that focuses on independent research within a specific academic field, culminating in a detailed dissertation. It serves as both a standalone research degree and a stepping stone towards a Ph.D., equipping students with advanced research skills and knowledge for a potential career in academia or research.

If you’re interested in pursuing an advanced postgraduate research degree, this page will explain everything you need to know about the MPhil programme.

We cover its course structure, the main difference between an MPhil and a PhD, how an MPhil may serve as a standalone degree or a stepping stone towards a PhD program, and how it differs from an MSc.

From independent research to a detailed dissertation, this course offers a rigorous training in research methods for those aspiring to build a career in research.

Whether you’re an undergraduate, a bachelor’s degree holder, or a master’s graduate considering a transition to the MPhil course, this blog provides valuable information to help you qualify for this exciting journey.

What is a Master of Philosophy?

The Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is a postgraduate degree that provides students with advanced research skills and knowledge in a specialized field of study.

It’s a stepping stone towards a Ph.D. programme, serving as a prerequisite in some cases, or can be a standalone research degree. 

An MPhil course is typically a two-year program where candidates undertake a project and produce a detailed dissertation, which is an extensive piece of research.

This rigorous research focus sets the MPhil apart from other master’s courses. MPhil candidates are expected to present and defend their research findings, thereby acquiring critical skills necessary for a career in research. 

The MPhil degree can be an end in itself, but often, it’s seen as a pathway to a Ph.D. program. While both are research degrees, a Ph.D. requires a significant and original contribution to knowledge, whereas an MPhil is seen as a precursor to this level of in-depth scholarship.

The MPhil could be an excellent option for individuals who aim to pursue a doctorate and develop their research competence before fully committing to the larger task of a Ph.D. program.

An MPhil degree – A case study

Case Study: An MPhil Student’s Journey

Our subject, who we will call Student X, was a graduate student enrolled in a two-year MPhil program at a renowned university, aiming to gain advanced research skills before embarking on a Ph.D. program. Student X wanted to explore their field of interest thoroughly before making a long-term commitment to a doctorate. 

In the first few months, Student X found the transition challenging, as the program demanded greater independence compared to their previous masters course. However, they were supported by their academic supervisor and peers, which helped them gain momentum. They spent most of their time in the university’s extensive libraries, reading and studying to build their knowledge base.

During their MPhil course, Student X took part in numerous seminars and workshops to develop their research skills. They learned how to frame research questions, design studies, and analyze data. These skills were put to the test when they embarked on their dissertation project, an intense period of independent study. 

The rigorous focus on research presented challenges; there were moments of self-doubt and stress, but also immense satisfaction and intellectual growth. Their dissertation process taught them resilience and the ability to solve problems independently, skills they realized were essential for a career in research.

Student X found the MPhil program to be incredibly rewarding. The comprehensive academic resources, mentorship from leading scholars, and the opportunity to engage in deep, exploratory research helped them grow academically and personally. They felt more prepared and less daunted by the idea of a Ph.D. program, acknowledging the MPhil experience as a vital stepping-stone to their doctorate journey.

Student X would recommend the MPhil course to anyone considering a research degree, as it provides a comprehensive understanding of what a career in research might entail.

What’s the difference between an MPhil and a PhD?

The main difference between an MPhil and a PhD lies in their scope, duration, and the level of contribution to the field. An MPhil, or Master of Philosophy, typically takes two years to complete and requires coursework, exams, and a dissertation based on the student’s research. It is often seen as a standalone degree that helps develop strong research skills and can act as a stepping stone towards a PhD.

Duration2 years4 or more years
PurposeDevelop research skills, can act as a stepping stone towards a PhDMake an original and significant contribution to a field of study
Degree TypeMaster’sDoctorate
Ideal ForThose needing to develop research skills quickly for a job, or looking to progress to a PhDThose aiming for a career in academia or high-level research positions
Time CommitmentLessMore
Depth of ResearchSubstantial but less than a PhDExtensive and expected to contribute new knowledge to the field

On the other hand, a PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a more intensive research degree that can take up to four years or more to complete.

The aim of a PhD program is to make a significant and original contribution to knowledge in the chosen field, culminating in a thesis based on the research undertaken.

In the context of MPhil vs PhD, a key distinction is that while the MPhil equips students with advanced research skills in a shorter time frame, a PhD is often necessary for careers in academia or high-level research positions.

Deciding between the two would depend on your career goals, time commitment, and financial situation.

Is an MPhil Better than An MSc?

Whether an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) is better than an MSc (Master of Science) largely depends on the career path and objectives of the postgraduate student planning to undertake either qualification.

Academically, an MPhil is more advanced, considered a ‘mini-PhD’ as it sits above an MSc and below a PhD in the academic hierarchy.

Therefore, if the goal is to progress into advanced research or academia, undertaking an MPhil degree could be a stepping stone towards a PhD degree, making it a better choice in such instances.

MPhil (Master of Philosophy)MSc (Master of Science)
DurationTypically two yearsTypically one – two year(s)
FocusResearchIndustry-specific knowledge and Research
Course StructurePrimarily research-based, can be a precursor to a PhDCoursework and possible research components, can be more focused on practical application
Career PathSuitable for those aiming for a career in academia or advanced researchIdeal for those intending to pursue a career in industry
Subject FieldsAvailable in nearly all fieldsExclusive to STEM-based subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
Academic LevelConsidered a mini-PhD, sits above MSc and below a PhDSits below an MPhil and a PhD, seen as an extension of an undergraduate degree

Conversely, an MSc can be a more industry-oriented qualification, focusing on the practical application of knowledge within the workplace.

For those seeking to deepen their skills for a profession in industry rather than going into a PhD, an MSc might be a more suitable choice.

The ‘better’ qualification is subjective, determined by individual career goals and ambitions.

It’s crucial to thoroughly understand the intent and outcome of both degrees before choosing which one to pursue.

Wrapping up – What potential MPhil Students need to know

The Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is a postgraduate research degree, distinctively defined by its intensive focus on advanced research. MPhil, short for Master of Philosophy, is a qualification that gives students an opportunity to dig deep into their area of interest and develop robust research skills, significantly beneficial for those contemplating a doctorate, or PhD program. 

An MPhil course typically spans two years, filled with rigorous coursework and a research-driven dissertation. Its research methods are what set it apart from other master degrees like the MSc (Master of Science), which is more aligned towards industry-specific knowledge and practical application. 

Choosing between an MPhil and MSc depends on your career trajectory. For those aspiring for a career in academia or advanced research, the MPhil could serve as a ‘mini-PhD’, a precursor to the doctoral journey. In contrast, the MSc could be a better fit for those seeking to strengthen their professional skills for industry roles.

Part-time and full-time options are available for this program, offering flexibility to suit various circumstances. The culmination of the MPhil degree is the ‘viva’, a defense of your dissertation, a testament to the profound postgraduate research undertaken. 

Whether it’s an end in itself or a stepping stone to a PhD, an MPhil degree can be an enriching and rewarding journey, providing an essential foundation for those keen on entering the world of research.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.