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Apologies if you've already seen this post over in applyingtograd - I was directed here with my questions.

I'm looking at taught Master's programs in the U.K. (that will hopefully lead into a PhD) and I have a couple questions about the kinds of degrees available. I'll be applying to either English Language or Linguistics of English/Historical English Linguistics. I know that at some schools MPhils are like MA's plus a thesis, while at others they are just MA's by a different name, which makes me wonder about all the other degrees. The options I've seen for my programs are: MPhil, M.Sc., M.St., MA. I'm looking hopefully towards Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, and also schools like U of Cardiff, Manchester, Leeds. If I do end up pursuing a PhD, it will also be in in the U.K.

So my questions are:

- What exactly is an M.St.? Is it the same as a "studies" degree in North America? Do people take it seriously when you're applying to do a PhD?

- Can you still (if all the stars align) get hired into a University English department with an M.Sc. (and a PhD in addition) if it's from a British school?

- What kind of Master's degrees have you gotten? Any words of wisdom?

I feel like those questions are kind of silly, but I'm afraid of finding myself applying to a degree that isn't ideal for my aspirations. Any help at all would be appreciated!


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
First, why are you doing a taught program as opposed to a research program? A research masters would probably be more helpful for a PhD than taught masters in the subject area you are referencing.

Long term, my understanding is the area of your degree is less relevant than what your research topic will be and if you have the skills pertinent to teaching that topic. (This is an American perspective from going to university in Australia and asking lots of questions about how the Australian system compares to the British system. My understanding of the British system may be a bit confused. I just have been led to believe that you could do an Masters or Doctorate in English while in the Sociology department and then get employed in the Communications department if your research supports that.)
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:50 am (UTC)
Well, I'm a Literature Major by training, and am potentially going into a program that would be linguistics heavy and I just haven't taken enough linguistics to feel confident in a linguistics research program yet. I feel like a year of intensive classes would prepare me for that. I do see what you mean about a research Masters being more useful.

Haha oh man, it's all so confusing!I guess I just need to start contacting people and talking to professors and whatnot...
Mar. 21st, 2011 07:50 am (UTC)
Unless you're applying for a masters by research, you don't need to contact professors to apply. You'll just take classes and you won't complete a dissertation that you would need a supervisor. The system is not like the USA in general. You don't take a year or two of classes and then do a thesis: All you do is take classes to get your masters.

A research masters in a subject like you're talking about is often basically just writing a really long review of literature. The expectation isn't as much that you'll do original research and create new understanding in the field. Rather, you synthesise new meaning from existing sources.

In some universities, if you do a really good job and your research progresses along adequately enough, you can upgrade to a PhD with out being punished. (That's basically what I did. Some error in applications caused that hiccup.) This can be useful and time saving if you're really good at teaching yourself and are willing to push ahead. (I'll finish my PhD in two years, the minimum possible.)
Mar. 21st, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC)
Ok great, that's exactly what I was just wondering.

So it looks like an MPhil or any Masters by research would be more useful than a taught Master's and could potentially speed up the whole process, but I wouldn't necessarily be shooting myself in the foot by taking a taught one instead.

Thanks for your detailed responses! I've found them super helpful :)
Mar. 21st, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
I might verify this with some one who is British, because I'm an American in Australia and my knowledge is based on the Australian system and what I've been told by my supervisors and a friend who attends a British university. I do know that my Australian credentials would be acceptable to the British but as the Americans have little concept of a research degree, this could be a bit of a problem in some places. (I'm going to one of the best programs related to sports in the country. Most Americans are unlikely to have heard of it.)

In my own case, I have an MSEd in Instructional Technology. I'm going for a PhD in Communications while based in the sport studies department. I knew practically nothing about Australian sport culture when I came here. I'd read a lot of American sport history. I knew a whole lot about social media from work and personal projects. I had zero concepts regarding the theory of any of this stuff. I taught myself all that as part of the research process. It is possible to do that... but you'd want to have an extremely strong concept of what you want to do research wise at the onset. (Though not always. Some people spend their first year or two trying to fine tune their topic.) Having the motivation to get things done is also important. No one is going to suggest that you write papers to get published and you're not going to have a class to provide structure to do that: You've got to do it on your own.

I hope I'm not lecturing... I'm just in a really, really good place for myself and I like talking about it. :) (And I should have a job lined up before I graduate. I also love my supervisors and love my department and love the freedom I have to do what I want.)
Mar. 22nd, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)
I don't think you're lecturing at all! It sounds like you've worked hard to get to where you are, I'd be proud of myself too. I hope to find myself in a position like that not too long from now, so I appreciate hearing how and why others were so successful.
Mar. 22nd, 2011 01:27 am (UTC)
To be lots of honest, issues with supervisors, only having one and the lack of flexibility make me really happy that I ended up in the Australian system instead of the British one. I like multiple supervisors across the displines my research covers. I love the idea of no dissertation defense. I like that my department considers me a specialist in my area. Some of this is probably my department and university more than the country, but most of the PhD students I meet seem less stressed out and happier.
Mar. 25th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
Taught masters still do a dissertation; or at least, mine does. Maybe it varies?

My british friend shrugs, so... do more research into it? She thinks the point is that since it is a Master's there's always a research component, even in a taught degree.
Mar. 21st, 2011 06:55 am (UTC)
Where did you see the option for the M.St? Was it for an English programme? I'm in a similar field and I never encountered it before.

I agree with the person above. If you're aiming for a PhD, I think it would be wiser to do a research MA and then go directly into a PhD, especially if you're also going to pursue that degree in the UK. 'Research based' doesn't mean you don't work with a supervisor at all. You do have to do a lot of independent work on your own, but you'll always have someone to consult and guide you in your project if you get into a good programme. If you aren't prepared enough to get into the programme they'll tell you. Maybe you can ask if they have intensive summer courses or something similar in linguistics if you're still feeling unsure?

I also don't see why you wouldn't get a teaching position at a university if you have a BA, an MA/MSc and a PhD. The UK has an excellent educational system (we'll see if that's still the case after the Tories are done with it, but that's another story). If you're aiming to teach English in European institutions of higher learning, a UK degree would in fact be more useful than a US one, because you'd have to validate your non-EEA degree to meet the Bologna Agreement standards.
Mar. 21st, 2011 07:05 am (UTC)
The M.St. option is only at Oxford, and it's in the English department under English Language. What field are you in? Are you a grad student? Where are you studying?

Most of the taught Master's appear to have a dissertation section that isn't quite a thesis but is still a self-driven research project. A few of the programs I am looking at don't have research equivalents. As far as I can tell (and as I'm sure is normal, this list changes daily) these are the courses that correspond closest to my interest. I was surprised to find some schools like Durham and Leeds didn't have similar degrees.

Cambridge – Mphil - Linguistics

Oxford – M.St. – English Language

Edinburgh - M.Sc. – (Linguistics and) English Language

Manchester – MA – (Linguistics and) English Language

Lancaster – MA – (Linguistics and) English Language

Thanks for the vote of confidence for employment. I've heard varied opinions all across the board.
Mar. 22nd, 2011 06:03 am (UTC)
Ah, it figures Oxbridge would do their own thing ;)

I studied comparative literature as an undergrad, and was looking at the European Master's in Translation network programmes, and MAs in European Lit. I applied to a tonne of places, but I am going to the Uni of Virginia (for a PhD in Hispanic Literature) because they gave me a nice fellowship and I would have had to borrow the money for the British unis. The situation isn't the best right now and I didn't want to end up in a bad situation already heavily indebted - it had nothing to do with the quality of education or the programmes themselves.

I applied to both Edinburgh and Manchester and they actually had a bit about each degree that told you what it would be good for on their sites - further study, professional training, etc. Look into those websites more, maybe the details will be there and you'll have more concrete information.

About employment - it will always vary according to who you ask. The differences in North American and British programmes is that Canadian and US degrees usually have a mandatory teaching assistantship that is part of your financial aid. You won't get this with British programs. You will, however, get your degree faster and you will have a lot more research and original work experience (maybe even publications). It all varies on what kind of institution you want to teach at after you get your degree (small, liberal arts-like places, or research-intensive institutions, etc) and in what country. As I said, by law, all EEA countries will HAVE to recognise your British degree, but they're within their rights to ask you to homologate your foreign titles to meet Bologna Agreement standards if they want to. So it all depends on your priorities!
Sorry if this is a bit long and kind of boring, but I applied to grad school in 5 different countries, to 3 different types of programmes, and I'm in a weird place tuition-fee wise since I have an EU passport but have lost my residency. So I did a tonne of research and I have no idea what's interesting or relevant to you so I might have gone a bit overboard. Sorry about that!

Oh, and have you looked at this website yet? You have to register to use everything but it's well worth it. :)
Mar. 22nd, 2011 06:56 am (UTC)
I will have completed my undergrad in English Lit (Honours) at the University of British Columbia by the end of this term. The degree itself has been great, I just realized near the end what it was exactly that I wanted to study, and that for the majority of my degree I hadn't been studying it. Isn't that always the way?

Wahoowah! My dad graduated from UVa. Congratulations on the admission and the fellowship! That's a very good point about fellowships/TA-ships, I hadn't really thought about that. It's such a given at my (enormous) university I forgot that not everywhere would be this way. I really don't want to go to an American school, not because they're not amazing in their own ways, but because I hate standardized testing and the programs I was looking at for my area of interest are few and far between. But they still fund people! Drat.

I will probably be in a similar place with my citizenship, as I'm a citizen of the UK by birth and have the birth certificate and passport to prove it, but have never been a resident.

What kinds of programs did you apply to? I'm looking at applying to at least two different kinds of programs with two if not three different kinds of degrees. I'm starting to get my head around the different names and what I would get out of them, but I'm still lost on the department debacle. For me I guess it comes down to freedom, because there only appears to be one taught program that fits my taste exactly and its at Oxford, which is great, I just don't know how likely it is that I would get in...
Mar. 22nd, 2011 08:18 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks hun! :)

The fellowships/TA and other funding things are very important. Since you've never had UK citizenship (you have not lived within the EEA in the past 5 years have you?) you'll have to pay international fees. They're a lot more expensive. On the upside, as a UK citizen you're allowed to work while you study and don't have to pay for visas and all that pain in the butt stuff.

To be honest, after doing my undergrad in the States I didn't want to stay for graduate school, but they're still the best funded programs (with further funding availiable for travel and research abroad). Have you looked at the Canadian unis? They're subsidising even foreign nationals, so I bet their financial aid for residents/citizens must be amazing. But I hear you about finding the right programme - I like interdisciplinary stuff a lot, and it's a priority for me (I wouldn't want to go to a strictly traditional language department for example) and it's sometimes hard to find a good match. Have you looked at Bristol? I studied there for a semester and their English department is varied, thorough and very complete if you're interested.

In the UK I applied to 3 kinds of programmes - the European translation ones I previously mentioned (I wanted to work in-house for either the UN or the EU and not freelance, otherwise I would have gone for any translation technology programme), Hispanic Literature, and 'European Literature' which was actually different depending on the university; it's been a while so I can't remember which now, but one of them was more of a war studies thing as seen through literature in different countries in their respective languages. I quite liked that one.

Since you're going to keep on studying till your PhD, I think you should focus more on the programme and the people in the department rather than worrying about the different terminology (like in Scotland they'll have a different name for a Master's than in Wales or England but it's the exact same thing, so I don't think it matters as much as how the programme is structured and what is required). Once you're in and have a tutor assigned, you can tell them what it is that you're planning to do, career-wise, and they'll guide you and point you to the right direction. I have a friend doing an archaeology MA in Sheffield and she wasn't planning on going on to an PhD and writing a dissertation, but she changed her mind as she went along and her department was wonderful and helpful helping her out.

Hope that helps! And good luck ♥
Mar. 22nd, 2011 08:18 am (UTC)
Er, UK residency* sorry!
Mar. 21st, 2011 10:02 am (UTC)
It it were me, I would contact the schools directly to find out exactly what the various Master's level degrees mean - everyone has a different version. For example, my 'master's year' was called an MA, but the beginning year of my PhD was called an MPhil, which I was 'transferred' from when I passed my upgrade panel. This was, however, just doing straight literature, so it may be different for linguistics and more science-based subjects.

In theory, yes, you can get hired at a UK university. Times are tough, though, with funding cuts and a glut of post-doc students, so it is going to be *tough*. My partner's had his PhD for two years, a pile of publications - including a BOOK - and lots of teaching and admin experience under his belt and he still hasn't even had an interview for a fixed term position yet. Getting an academic post is a combination of several factors from your subject area, your exact degrees, your experience, and the direction of the wind on alternating Thursdays. So yes - in theory - but probably not anytime soon. Be prepared to have to wait.

As I said above, I did an MA (taught) with intention to go into a PhD straight afterwards (we did have a researched thesis as well as taught modules). My MA year was very much a baptism by fire. The only real wisdom I can give - since it's in a different area and at a different uni from your list - is to know what you're getting into beforehand. I'd say the best thing to do is probably contact the relevant departments and put some of these questions to them.
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
"and the direction of the wind on alternating Thursdays."

Yes! Man, the best descriptions are always the most dispiriting :p

What do you mean when you say "baptism by fire?" Did they just throw a bunch of information at you with the hope it would stick or was it even more harrowing? I've heard one year Master's programs can be really overwhelming; I wish there were more MPhils or 2 year programs in general in what I want to do being offered in the U.K.
Mar. 21st, 2011 06:06 pm (UTC)
By 'baptism by fire' I mean the MA was a massive learning curve (mostly because of the differences between US uni education and UK education), and a time when I was learning so fast I didn't even realise I was learning. Going from a broad but not particularly challenging BA in English to my MA (in-depth, challenging, and fast) was quite a gear-change. The faculty were really friendly and more than happy to help if I had problems, but it was still very sink-or-swim. I wouldn't call it stressful, as such, nor harrowing, but I think intense is probably the best way to describe it.

My PhD has been very similar, but for reasons that I think (hope!) are unique to my situation.
Mar. 21st, 2011 10:04 am (UTC)
MSt is only on Oxford thing, isn't it? A master's degree from Oxford has not to my knowledge ever hurt anyone, especially if that's where you want to do your PhD.

Oxbridge in general prefer research degrees (MPhil) to taught degrees (MA) in their PhD students. They're not too different other than that. I did an MA in Wales and loved it--and I know what you mean about linguistics vs literature as I've had to learn a few languages and get a grounding in linguistics! They're both quite challenging; it may help to talk to the dept ahead of time as most will let you audit classes as a research student. A taught MA isn't just classes (though if you don't do well enough on that part to go onto the diss, you can get a diploma instead); it's generally 2 terms of classes followed by a dissertation of varying length depending on your university and department.

I did a taught MA and went on to a PhD in the same university and it's been grand; don't stress too much except about the funding. ;) I have a friend doing linguistics at Cambridge atm and it's HARD, just so you know!
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
Ooooh where did/do you study in Wales? I really want to apply to Cardiff but their department appears to be more focused on applied linguistics (and maybe brain?) and not so much historical/English linguistics :( Do you mind if I ask what you're studying?
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
Not at all! Medieval Welsh Literature at Aberystwyth; I'm halfway through the PhD now. I absolutely adore it even though it's hard. :)
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
AAAh that's so cool! I'm hoping to focus my degree partly on Welsh/Old Welsh/Old English type things. In any case I'm hoping to teach myself modern Welsh during my gap year - we'll see how that goes! I took an Arthur of the English course last term and it was rad - we talked a lot about the Welsh stories.
Mar. 21st, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Ooh, interesting! It's the Welsh Arthur that my PhD deals with. Anyway the best departments in the UK (probably the world, since there isn't realy much call for it off this island) for Welsh are Aberystwyth, Bangor and Cardiff, which is not to say that Cambridge's ASNAC dept and Oxford's Jesus College aren't brilliant. You'll definitely learn the linguistics there but there's less chance to learn modern Welsh so you'd have to do that separately (there are summer courses here that are worth taking though). And if you're doing OE, obviously they are both awesome for that.
Mar. 22nd, 2011 12:58 am (UTC)
To be perfectly honest, what I really want to study is the History of English. As a subject, however, it seems to get tucked into different departments depending on the school. Oxford actually has an English Language program that is essentially a History of English M.St. which is how this whole question came about. A lot of schools seem to have English Language and Linguistics departments that would allow me to focus on the history of English for some credits and for the dissertation. I'm trying to avoid having to take a full literature or full linguistics degree to study what I want but it sometimes seems unavoidable.

Welsh would just be in there a) because I love it and I love Wales and b) because I I'm interested in both Old English and the Celtic languages that preceded it. Did you learn to read Welsh for your degree?
Mar. 22nd, 2011 01:35 am (UTC)
If you are doing taught, the focus of the program probably matters more. If you can find a supervisor who is open to your intended learning and research outcomes, then it is less of a problem. My supervisor does sport management and knows little about social media. Another knows a lot about social media and nothing about sport. Yet both see the value of my research as it tangentially relates to their research. Plus, as they constantly remind me, I am Supposed to know more than them.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 03:07 pm (UTC)
Well, you have some freedom in what you do--there doesn't have to be a course that is Exactly The Very Thing You Want to Do, because if there were, there would not be any need to research it further!

I did learn Welsh, yes. (Old, middle and modern--ouch!) I did Old English back in undergrad, and the history of the language is fascinating, I can see why you want to do it!
Mar. 23rd, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC)
Hahaha very good point! I hadn't thought about it that way but you're so right. It seems like the field I'm interested in shifts around. When my prof did her degree 30 years ago, it was in the English department. Now, however, these programs are mostly in the linguistics department, or some kind of mixed program with a linguistic focus. I guess that's trending in academia for you, eh?

What was your taught Master's course in, out of curiosity? Was it Medieval studies or Welsh History or Welsh Literature or something like that? I'm always curious to see what departments cool research comes out of.
Mar. 23rd, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
Medieval Welsh Literature; it was through the Welsh department.
Mar. 25th, 2011 12:12 pm (UTC)
I'm currently doing an Msc.

You want to avoid Conversion Courses. Generally they're not very good.

The way my programme works, you have to pass the first two semesters with a high enough grade to do a dissertation. Without a dissertation, you get a Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip); the dissertation takes (in theory) 3 months (though extensions are available) and, upon passing that component of the programme, you receive your Master's. The entirety of the programme takes one year - two semesters taught and a dissertation over the summer.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )


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