In recent years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of undergraduates in all professions. What this means is that undergraduate degrees (BSc, BA etc.) are becoming more common. This in turn means that jobs and positions requiring these degrees are becoming more competitive. I remember more than 6 years ago, it was not as common for someone to have been to university, and a bachelor’s degree was certainly seen as a great achievement. Not that it isn’t still a great achievement, as any kind of formal education requires hard work, dedication, and sacrifice.
Now let’s talk about postgraduate study. Having recently completed my Master’s in Research (MRes) degree from Imperial College, I can certainly say that the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate study is astounding. There are many incentives to embark on a master’s, such as acquiring new skills, knowledge, experience, and as an entry point into more advanced careers. It may also help you stand out in a highly competitive job market, whatever field it might be.
As a scientist, I will mainly focus on scientific postgraduate degrees. The most common is the Master of Science (MSc). An MSc degree is typically one year of full time study, without summer breaks (unlike undergraduate degrees). Some might say that an MSc is quite similar to undergraduate study when it comes to its structure and components, but that is where the similarities end. An MSc typically consists of lectures, seminars and assessments throughout the year, combined with a major research component. As you might have guessed, this looks quite similar to the final year of undergraduate study. An MSc is great if you want to continue learning as well as gain more "hands on" research experience. As a postgraduate, however, you are expected to develop strong independent learning, time management (in and out of academia), as well as establish a sense of self commitment and application of knowledge. These skills are what truly drive your success as a postgraduate.
The MRes degree is quite different to the MSc. An MRes typically consists of a full year of hands on research designed for those that are committed to a career in research. As you might have guessed, there are usually no taught components or very little compared to the MSc, which means if you enjoy research and prefer this over lectures and assessments, the MRes might be more suitable for you. Despite this, the MRes is not easier than the MSc and both (I believe) require the same amount of effort, just applied slightly differently. The MRes is research heavy and typically consists of two or more independent research projects, whereby you are expected to drive yourself and write up thesis-like reports for each one. You are then assessed through a viva (like a mini PhD). As you can imagine, the MRes is perfect for those looking to pursue a PhD, and it can certainly help you stand out from other applicants.
Overall, I would recommend postgraduate study to anyone wishing to advance their careers. Whatever your career goal might be, there are a variety of different masters designed to suit your personal needs and preferences.
Lewis Wong, PhD student (The Medical School)