Masters to PhD - what's the gap?

(10 Posts)
Fink Fri 20-May-16 20:13:58


So I'm thinking about applying for a p/t PhD after finishing a p/t Masters next year. I really need to know what the comparative workload is like. I'm pretty much at my limit with the Masters, with p/t work and being a lone parent (with A LOT of support from my own parents) so if it were a considerably heavier workload, that would make the decision for me.

Just roughly, in terms of hours/week studying, what would you say they were like compared to one another? Obviously I realise that PhD is much more up and down with fewer external deadlines so more self-imposed deadlines, but on average ...?

They'll be at different unis, if that makes much of a difference. Humanities. The uni where I'm doing my masters is mid-ranked. Where I hope to do PhD is either Oxford or Kings.

FoggyBottom Fri 20-May-16 21:31:22

Nowadays, MAs are pretty much an extension of a BA. There's more of a jump from MA to PhD than when I did mine 20 years ago. I'm getting eager & talented but unprepared students - they find the pace in their first year quite challenging. If you've found the Masters pushed you to your limit, I doubt you'd cope with a PhD at the moment. A part-time PhD is tricky.

What is it that is pushing you in your MA? What aspect of the work? That might help us advise you.

Fink Fri 20-May-16 22:55:19

Thanks for the info.

I don't feel academically out of my depth in the masters course, it's just the time commitment. The taught element is fine, time-wise, as is preparing for it. It's the assessments (essays) and dissertation which I find very time consuming. I have two terms and a bit to write a 30,000 word dissertation and it really is the limit of what I can spare, already I'm relying on the good will of my employers and the massive help of my parents.

LikeDylanInTheMovies Sat 21-May-16 04:21:14

Finished my PhD in the humanities last year!

I found the PhD burrowed its way into my soul and took over my life in a way that my masters didn't. I found it far more intense, far more stressful and far more hours involved, however I don't know how typical this experience is. Especially as I am not great at organising time and I had health issues during the course of the PhD. It takes a mental toll too. When I wasn't working on the PhD it felt like I should be, when I was working on it I worried I was writing garbage.

Yes, in a sense a PhD does give you a degree of flexibility, you are less bound by seminars and timetables (certainly in the humanities), but I had to undertake several research trips to all corners of the UK for a few weeks at a time, not sure if your proposed PhD project would involve significant travel to archives and sources, but it is something to factor in.

There are still deadlines looming over you as well. Most pressingly ,completion deadlines. Even for part time students the department were fairly strict about these ( at my former university it was six and a half years for part timers) and the days of spinning out a PhD into infinity is becoming a thing of the past. I also had to submit regular progress reports and hand in substantial chunks of written material on an annual basis for assessment by a committee. It was also expected that I attend seminar groups and contribute papers in front of the academic staff as part of the annual assessment process. Obviously this will vary from university to university, but most seem to have some sort of upgrade/review process at the end of each year.

Also if you want to make a career out of it, you'll need to think about attending and speaking at conferences and getting work into academic journals and teaching (which eats into your time like nobody's business).

It isn't impossible, there was a woman who was doing her PhD part-time at the same time as me who was the lone parent to a pre-school age child. However, she didn't have a job as well as the PhD and childcare to contend with. Her son went to the nursery three days a week so she could work undisturbed on the PhD and her parents were close by and took him when she was at conferences or on research trips.

However, if the research element of the Masters (which is a usually a small self-contained project) is pushing you to the limit time, energy and goodwill wise, it might be that you can't give what is needed to a PhD at the moment.

FoggyBottom Sat 21-May-16 09:02:57

LikeDylan those are wise words.

I warn my Doctoral candidates that a PhD will ruin their lives - that is, it will take over. It is intense, as it should be. It needs to be tough because it is the final piece of an apprenticeship that then certifies you to go on and do independent knowledge-generating work.

You don't have reading lists or essay titles. You are alone with the blank page.

I have never really suffered deep uncertainty about my research (my insecurities are in other areas) probably because I was never the best or brightest (never came top of the class etc). I was always 2nd or 3rd. So I just worked very hard, not in a competitive way, but for the utter love of and drive to find things out. I'm 20 years on from my PhD now, and I feel I'm just coming into my intellectual maturity. It feels good!

So you really need to think about why you want to do a PhD. If you want an academic career, you'll need to be available for part-time teaching, you'll need to present your work at conferences, you'll need to be involved in your Department/School's intellectual life.

These things are hard to do part-time, or at a distance. You can do a PhD without them, but you it will take you a lot longer to get the other parts of your CV up to speed for an academic job (if that's what you want).

The universities you mention will be rather wary of taking on a self-funded part-time Doctoral candidate - well, I would be, certainly (not at either, but at comparable institution). The highest non-completion rates are self-funded students. And if students don't complete in the specified time (6 years part-time) universities are penalised. Personally, having had a couple of very frustrating experiences with very pushed part-time/self-funded students, I would be reluctant to take on any more in that way. One almost broke me ... and I'm a rigorous & supportive supervisor.

One way you might make the part-time work is to 'chunk' your time: alternate periods of full-time working with full-time research - say 3 months at a time, or even 6 months.

A PhD is research, not study ...

Fink Sat 21-May-16 09:07:43

Congratulations on your doctorate!

No, I'm not interested in a career as a professional academic, I just like studying for its own sake.

Still, it does sound like maybe it would be a bit too much at the moment. Maybe I'll wait till DD is a bit older ...she'll be 7 by the time I finish the masters. Like, 10-16 year olds barely take any looking after, do they?! wink

Chrysanthemum5 Sat 21-May-16 09:21:44

If you don't need the PhD I'd consider seriously why you want to do it. A PhD is a really challenging experience- I did mine in science so was in a lab full of people going through the same thing and it was still really hard to keep going.

You need to think about what you'd do if your parental support stopped. Could you continue? If you delay the PhD will that support still be available to you?

If you love your subject and feel an incredible desire to study further, and have support, then I wouldn't want to stop you. However if it's just that you love learning be aware that a PhD is very different to a taught masters. You're not 'learning' in the same way, you're expected to become a fully independent researcher and the expert on your topic. It's really not just like a harder masters, it's a completely different experience

Good luck either way and well done on your masters

FoggyBottom Sat 21-May-16 09:45:34

It's really not just like a harder masters, it's a completely different experience


Fink Sat 21-May-16 12:32:13

Thanks everyone for your insights.

The masters course I'm on is designed to be a bridge between a taught and research led course in that it has 2 years taught and the final year completely research based, with just one supervision. So I guess I'll see at the end of the research year how I feel.

The other worry I have is whether I'd have anything original to contribute to my field. I'm not sure if that's more self-awareness of my limitations as an original thinker or self-doubt as general personality trait!

FoggyBottom Sat 21-May-16 12:49:05

The original contribution emerges. I'd say that it becomes clear in the 2nd year of a 3 year full-time candidature.

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