Picking a university course is a big decision but picking a Masters is an even bigger one. Your masters is usually more specialised than your undergrad degree and often points towards the career that you intend to join. There can be very specific masters courses so it isn’t always as simple as obvious titles like English or History, a masters is your time to narrow your focus. An additional choice to make is what type of masters, yes there is more than one, and it changes the course that you do.
I’m studying the MRes Marine Biology instead of a traditional MSc. The MRes is research focused, as a general rule, across universities MRes degrees are focused more closely on research rather than lots of modules. On my MRes Marine Biology course we spend the first semester doing three modules, one covers the basics of research skills and is assessed with two pieces of course work (not due till February), another was a choice between studying the molecular or ecology side of marine biology assessed by two pieces of coursework. In the third module, researchers from the university and the Marine Biological Association (MBA) present their research, and you complete two pieces of coursework on topics that were presented during the lectures. During this time, you are also deciding upon and planning the research project you want to complete. This is the most important part of the course, and it needs to be something that you are truly interested in because come January that is the only thing you will be doing. There will be no timetabled lectures, you are free to work by yourself all week.
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned exams, which is because there are none. Yep it’s a purely coursework based masters. Whilst other students are running around like headless chickens and scribbling down everything the lecturer says, we sit back and relax in our lectures and simply enjoy them. It’s a strange feeling because after three years of worrying about understanding every detail ready for exams, you can actually just listen. I’ve found I enjoy my lectures a lot more because you can skim over the complex parts and just understand the basics. No one is going to question you under timed conditions you can review anything you need at a later date.
My favourite module has been the third one where the researchers have presented their work, this way you can explore what options you have for research areas. In each lecture the speaker is truly trying to sell you their work, they want you to come and do your masters project with them, they are passionate about what they do and it really comes across when they are talking. Also if there is a lecture that you think ‘actually I’m really not interested’ or ‘I’m not following this’, it doesn’t matter, you just don’t do your coursework on that subject. The range of subjects covered is always so wide that there is something for everyone. That is something I find really interesting, when you talk to your course mates you realise that their interests can be completely different to your own, even though you are studying the same subject. If you are passionate about sharks don’t worry, no one is going to make you write an essay on plankton, you can tailor all your coursework to the subject that you are interested in.
After Christmas these modules are over and you are free to work purely on your research project from January right through till September. If you enjoy doing your honours project in your undergrad, and think you might be interested in doing a PhD, then aim for a MRes. For research minded people MRes degrees are perfect, escape endless exams and do something meaningful.