Masters degress

(30 Posts)
Katkins1 Thu 31-Oct-13 00:44:57


I'm looking for some advice on MA study, for myself. I'm a lone parent with one DD, 6. I've fought really hard (depression, PTSD, the whole uni system in general) and now I'm in my final year. I've been offered a conditional place of 2.1 degree to do an MA next year. This is something I want more than anything, because I want to teach in HE. I'm applying for all of the funding I can think of (scholarships, loans, everything) because I'm not able to self fund, and plan to get a p/t job in May, as soon as my course finishes.

I know it's going to be hard, and funding is competitive, but I'm determined to do this. I feel as though I have come so far, too far to give up now, but I wondered if anyone has been there and done this, or has any advice at all?


MagratGarlik Thu 31-Oct-13 18:51:36

What is your field? The only reason I ask is that if your eventual aim is HE teaching, you will really need a PhD rather than a masters. In the sciences it is quite common to go straight from degree to PhD if you have a 2.1 or a 1st.

Funding for MA's is sparse, but funding for PhDs although competitive is much more common.

The reason most universities want teaching staff with PhDs is that you will usually be expected to supervise PhD students and head a research group in addition to undergraduate teaching responsibilities. Obviously you cannot supervise PhDs without holding one yourself. In older universities, promotion and career progression will also be based much more on research output than undergraduate teaching (I won't repeat what one of the PVCs once said to me about undergraduate teaching at my old institution...)

Lomaamina Thu 31-Oct-13 20:12:04

It's a long slog to get to a teaching position as MagratGarlik said. In the current climate where even PhDs find it hard to secure university positions, I'd be cautious about seeing this as a direct career path. One thing to add is that whilst it is true that in the sciences you typically go straight from undergrad to PhD, in the arts and humanities you would normally need a Master's to do a PhD.

Not wishing to put you off entirely, but you're doing the right thing looking for scholarships if your heart's set on continuing your studies, but for what it's worth, I wouldn't go into debt to do a Master's, unless I knew it would improve my career prospects.

Have you tried to search for studentships?

Katkins1 Thu 31-Oct-13 21:18:40


It's Arts and Humanities. Whilst I know its not direct, I fully intend to undertake a PHD after. I did talk to some experienced tutors first, who said Masters would be preferable to going straight on to PHD from BA, especially in my subject. I considered the four year MRES programmes, and funded PHDs, before I settled on the MA I got offered. I don't know if this makes much of a difference, but its a Russell Group (the one I'm at now isn't, but is fantastic, so its not the teaching, but the academic prestige that attracted me). My current uni is teacher training oriented, and there's not much post grad research, although I did think of staying there. Most of our tutors hold their higher level qualification from the same place. I probably should have said, I've been thinking long and hard about this. I've applied so early in my final year, too, because I really want it. I had to submit a plan for my portfolio and dissertation to get on to, I never thought that they would say yes, if I'm honest.

I don't see it as a direct route, because I know to teach, I've got four more years of study ahead of me. Then there's getting a job, and I know that's hard too. Thing is, I've enjoyed my degree so much and I'm on a first now, so you know when something's just right ? I feel as though academics is the right carer path for me, the only thing that puts me off is fighting for funding (which I will do, and fully expect to be working all the hours I'm not studying). If I didn't have that high first, I wouldn't be thinking of it. Probably helps that nearly all of my friends are lecturers/ have done an MA, so I can see that they have struggled and now love what they do. I've also had an inspiring lecturer, and watching her teach made me realise why I want to do it.

Does that sound really odd? Thank you for the link- I will look.

MagratGarlik Thu 31-Oct-13 21:44:03

It doesn't sound odd, it sounds very enthusiastic. I would say though that it is an extremely competitive career. After a PhD most people will do post-docs for at least 4-6 years before getting their first lectureship, though new universities are less demanding in this. Getting a lectureship will mean competing against everyone else who will also be the best of their cohort as undergrads and the best of their peers as PhDs too.

I don't mean to sound negative, but I do want to paint a realistic picture of realities of securing a lectureship. Once you are in position, there will be a lot of pressure to keep funding coming in. At my previous institution, lecturers and above were expected to bring in at least £100k of external research funding per year as principal investigator. Comparing notes with friends at other universities, I know most RG universities make similar demands of staff in the sciences (might be less in the humanities where research is generally cheaper to carry out).

If you are prepared to be in it for the long haul, go for it though. It can be a fantastic career, but I have to say, not at all family friendly.

MRes BTW are only 1 year long (I supervised a number of MRes students), whereas a PhD will usually be 4 years full time these days. As a PhD student you will usually automatically be registered as MPhil for your first year, regardless of whether you have a masters already or not. You are only officially transferred to PhD on the recommendation of your supervisors and after your first year viva.

Shootingatpigeons Fri 01-Nov-13 11:15:27

I did an MA in 2005 and my humanities dissertation was definitely compromised by the demands of having older children on holiday, a p/t job would have made it harder. The problem I found was that I need to have the space to immerse myself and think deeply around my argument, it's not something you can dip in and out of or you lose the depth of thought and ability to view all the strands of thought holistically. It is even more of an issue at PhD ........

Katkins1 Fri 01-Nov-13 19:26:49

Yes, shootingatpigeons, I'm finding it hard to get going on my undergrad dissertation, simply because of the demands of life! I did start uni when she was 3. Its not impossible, but my gosh, its a challenge. Thanks, Margat, I often wonder if any career is family friendly, especially for single parents, but I guess I'm still thinking things through- I only found out this week, and we are getting started properly on lots of our third year work now!

UptheChimney Sun 03-Nov-13 14:34:54

The main State funding in your area is the AHRC, and they now have very limited funding for Masters' degrees. You may get funding for an MRes, which are generally set up to prepare you for a PhD (well, that's the principle I've used in developing a couple of Masters programmes).

You may be able to win funding from the institution in question: either a fees bursary, or some sort of fees + living allowance, but these are increasingly rare.

And generally (well, in the Universities I've taught at) you'll need a First Class UG degree to be in the running for funding. A 2.i is enough to gain you a place, as it shows that intellectually you're capable, but the place and the funding are different things.

You might look at a 4 year PhD programme which is generally an MRes + PhD all rolled up into one, and probably a better bet for funding. But, depending on your specific discipline and university, you'll still need a First to be competitive. The fields of English, History, Theatre, Music, and some languages are highly competitive.

It sounds as though you are going to be able to swim in that pool, so good luck! You need to start looking by December, as most funding applications are in January/February. You'll find information o University wesites, in the Times Higher, and on

You need to be very proactive: you need to contact the Departments where you want to study. There's no UCAS equivalent, and you're expected to do all the groundwork yourself.

Although as we're moving into the 2nd round of the Block Grant Partnerships (BGP2), with universities creating consortia, the landscape is changing a little. If you have very good results, you may find that there are some quite attractive offers out there, although if you're not at a research intensive university it may be more difficult -- I'm afraid I've generally found that my 3rd years (RG, top 10) are better & more on the ball than my MA students who are using the MA to 'step up' from a non-research institution to a research-led course. So a high First will be a very good thing ...

PiratePanda Sun 03-Nov-13 14:51:42

AFAIK the AHRC have just abolished all stand alone funding for taught Masters programmes. On the other hand, some of the new consortia will be offering 3.5 years funding for PhD, instead of 3, including 6 months for the full coursework component of a taught Masters.

But seriously, you should consider doing your MA part time while working. It gives you much more time to think about what you're learning and makes for a much deeper experience, at a much more manageable cost.

All that being said you'll need a PhD (as everyone's said) to teach in HE, and to get PhD funding you'll definitely need a 1st in your BA and probably a distinction in your MA as well. The very best MA student in this year's cohort - final degree average of 79! - failed to get an AHRC scholarship for their PhD with us first time round.

Katkins1 Sun 03-Nov-13 22:44:37

Thank you both smile Yes, it's so competitive, I know! The uni I've applied to ask you to apply for AHRC under block grant funding, plus I think there's an English Lit funding body too. I've contacted them to find out a bit more. I might consider a PHD with MRes, if I can. I'm currently on a high first , with a couple of rubbish results for exams I took in the month before I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, so those could have been a lot better, I think. My upper marks are above 80%; especially in the subject that I want to study, but a first?! Oh, its so hard, and scary.......

UptheChimney Sun 03-Nov-13 23:21:14

Eng Lit is extremely competitive (I know this field well). For funding you'll need a First, and a Distinction at MA, and not "just" a First, but a high first. And frankly, it may be tricky if your First is not from a research-intensive university.

For your PhD proposal, you'll also need to match proposal and place. When we offer a PhD studentship, we have to show to the AHRC that we can supervise at Doctoral level wit the requisite degree of specialist expertise. You have to be able to very clear "why this project at this institution."

It's the first question I ask when I'm interviewing studentship candidates.

Katkins1 Mon 04-Nov-13 18:33:59

I feel really negative now sad I'm guessing you are an academic- so you must have done it, too! Its like saying I can't do it before I've even tried. I'm surprised so many people do it, with all the negativity. Or maybe its realism, and I just have my head in the clouds....

UptheChimney Mon 04-Nov-13 19:34:00

It's not negativity: it's realism and resilience. It's a very hard career to take up, and the public perception of lazy academics who have little to do is a very false view. I generally work a 10-12 hour day (9 hours feels quite light) and have not had a full weekend free since August. So you need to be realistic: it's as tough as doing medicine or going into a silver circle city law firm -- without the salary. As a senior person at the top of the promotional ladder (unless I want to become a Pro-Vice Chancellor) I earn less than a fairly inexperienced GP.

Completing postgrad work is as much about stubbornness and stickability and resilience as it is about "genius". Indeed, the actual genius people I was at university with as an undergrad (double starred Firsts and so on) either didn't complete their PhDs, or did but didn't really get anywhere in their academic careers. I tend to feel that if I can complete a PhD most people can: it's tenacity and intelligence, with a dose of strength of will in there as well! Bloody mindedness maybe? although I'm actually quite mild & nice in public

Finishing a PhD is a bit of a mind game with yourself. Part of that is not giving in to negative thoughts, or finding ways to use them to spur you on. From what you say, you have the basic intellectual capacity to do really well. So it's the mind game/frame of mind stuff that you need to get clear for yourself.

It might be worth thinking about a "gap year" after you finish your undergrad degree. To do PG work, you've got to want to do that more than anything else. It's too much like hard work otherwise. But it sounds as though it IS what you really want to do. So take it step by step. You may not get where you want to be in the way that you thought you would -- but you'll get where you need to be eventually. truisms'r'us

Shootingatpigeons Mon 04-Nov-13 19:59:34

Quite apart from the competitiveness I think you should really consider whether this is a career which would give you the flexibility to be a parent. l came back to do a Master's degree in humanities after a career in business. I actually already had a Master's degree in business and a career that had had a fairly high content of facilitating planning etc. at senior levels / working in business training. I must be quite good at it since I get paid £1k a day and I don't have to do many days to fund my academic work. Initially I was doing the MA to increase the cultural knowledge I needed in my job but the means became the end and I did get a distinction. I briefly wondered whether to pursue an academic teaching career but frankly at my institution the extent to which they will accommodate the needs of parents (either gender) and the degree of competitiveness between academics makes the Britain's top 500 companies I have worked in seem like philanthropic organisations. I was used to a certain degree of flexibility and a culture of knowledge sharing to generate ideas recognising a few brains put together will generate better ideas than one and that is of the greater benefit to all but whilst I have been lucky to have some wonderful inspiring and supportive tutors and supervisors I have also witnessed ruthless, egotistical and self centred behaviour and absolutely no space for flexibility on childcare needs. Frankly in your position I would consider teaching first, then you actually do get holidays etc. Could be my institution though, it is quite idiosyncratic.....

likelytoasksillyquestions Mon 04-Nov-13 20:25:00

Mmm, Shooting. I'm chewing over all that stuff atm (fully-funded MSc student with one-time aspirations of academic career, lone parent) and feeling pretty bleak. I like my uni and my course, but I've mostly found them to be at best clueless about childcare issues.

PiratePanda Mon 04-Nov-13 21:14:15

Actually, now I have a permanent post (albeit junior) I find academia to be quite flexible where childcare is concerned; academic terms coincide witb school terms and I can puck DS up at 3PM because I don't have to be in an office 9-5 (though like everyone else I work 10 hour days 7 days a week). But then I'm bloody minded and take DS to work with me if I have to (undergraduates make great babysitters) and insist that mothers can be top academics and still be good mothers. I am only going to have one, however.

MagratGarlik Mon 04-Nov-13 22:12:18

My pervious institution would not allow academics to take children in with them, unless visiting on maternity leave (which was a good job, because I started attending meetings with ds2 when he was just 6 weeks old).

The traveling makes it fairly family unfriendly and in my field it was necessary to be taking at conferences regularly. You are only ever as good as your last talk and can sink to obscurity in no time. In my last year I decided no travel outside europe and even then, I sent one of my postdocs unless I really had to go myself. I was still away for international trips 6 times and several more for overnight UK trips.

I was in a permanent post for a decade, but in that time also did not have a single family holiday when I didn't take work with me and regularly worked till 3-4am, even on occasion working through the night and turning up at 9am to deliver a lecture. However, it wasn't the hours which made me decide to leave, it was the lack of collegiality. It really can be a vipers nest and at least in science, you are competing against men who almost without exception have stay at home wives, making their life that much simpler.

I'd certainly agree too with Upthechimneys comments about the requirement for bloody-mindedness. The people that finish their PhDs are the ones determined enough to see it through, but also know that their work will never be perfect, so finding the point when it is enough.

Please excuse the bad spelling and grammar, I'm on my phone.

UptheChimney Mon 04-Nov-13 23:08:17

you are competing against men who almost without exception have stay at home wives, making their life that much simpler

Yes, this makes me spit. It shouldn't be allowed, frankly. It's completely unfair competition. I remember talking to a "colleague" when we were both doing our PhDs, and his wife let on that she had done all his fecking footnotes for him. My OH at the time had his own stuff on (finishing a PhD in another field, and quite ill) so I did all my own work on my PhD. I was so ready to shop this other student for cheating.

I do tend to notice that very few male academics have equally high-flying wives ...

Katkins1 Mon 04-Nov-13 23:21:00

Thank you for all of that, its really useful to hear. I'd not really considered the parent aspect of it, except I would get childcare. I suppose because I've been doing a degree that requires a lot of extra hours, and found the only inflexible people to be childless students, oddly! I am expecting long days, but my days right now are 5.30am-7.30pm with the little one- dropping off, picking up, travelling and so on, and then university work on top of that in the evenings. We seem to have a lot of parent lecturers at our uni, some have 3 or more children, and I suppose that's what inspired me a bit. There is only one man in our department, the rest are women. I started telling him about the boys club in academics (I know it exists..), but he wasn't so sure... though his counter-part (incredible academic determined woman) says yes, it does. There aren't many women in senior positions, I notice, though they have much more substantial research projects. I'd probably be best asking one of them, but I feel odd because its such a personal thing.

My Daughter would be 8 or 9 by the time that I am thinking PHD, and heading in to the teens before I completed it. I think my family is done now, as I'm a lone parent, and its not on the cards for me to have any more. Universities are pretty clueless when it comes to childcare, I agree. I do wonder if any career would be suited to being a lone parent, and if I should simply accept that its going to be a challenge. So much to think about. All of these replies are so helpful.

crazyspaniel Tue 05-Nov-13 14:08:22

Another thing to bear in mind whether you are able to move around the country on a regular basis to find work. Permanent jobs are as rare as hen's teeth now and less than 20% of PhD students will end up with one. And it's unlikely that anyone would walk into one immediately post-PhD - the reality is several years of postdocs or teaching fellowships, which could be anywhere. I've been in a permanent post for eight years now, still check every week, and only two others have been advertised in my field during that period, both of which would have been unfeasible because of location (DH is also an academic, in a university not too far from mine).

Something else I would point out about academia (or at least my University) is that it is very far from being an intellectually-driven environment, where scholarship is nurtured. Bullying is rife, corporate values over-ride everything, and the day-to-day pressures make it hard to find the head-space to do research.

I know that this sounds negative, but I feel it's best to be honest. Universities are not generally upfront with prospective PhD students about the realities of the job market, since it is in their interest to recruit as many postgraduates as possible. I'm in charge of graduate studies in my department, and this is one of the things that depresses me most about my role.

PiratePanda Tue 05-Nov-13 14:17:22

Magrat I'm running a massive multi-million pound project that involves a lotof overseas travel. I have a supportive DH who is also an academic witha busy travelling schedule, and although it's a bit mad, I still find it compatible with childcare while DS is not yet at school. The travelling will have to slow down a bit while he's in primary school, but I still think the flexibility outweighs a lot of the negatives.

SayCoolNowSayWhip Tue 05-Nov-13 14:37:45

Katkins I'm in a similar situation - in final year of Humanities UG degree. Have a 3 yo and 7 month and boy, it is tough!

At the end of last semester I was literally typing assignments one handed and bfing DS with the other!

I want to go into HE teaching as well but from this thread I am certainly having second thoughts.

Do you have the tenacity and stubbornness to see it through? Not sure if I do! grin

Can I ask, when you say you're 'on a first', do you mean that's what you've been predicted? Did you get an overall first for your second year?

UptheChimney Tue 05-Nov-13 16:33:42

It's interesting you say you want to go into HE teaching. Teaching is only half of what we do. In my view, you need to be driven by research to make it worth doing. If I can't do my research, I get grumpy, and I may as well become a civil servant, and get paid twice what I get as a professor.

MagratGarlik Tue 05-Nov-13 17:00:14

Yes, I must say, at my old place, teaching "only" contracts were considered something of a demotion and rarely had any career prospects associated with them.

Shootingatpigeons Tue 05-Nov-13 17:55:47

Pirate panda Been there done that with my previous job, tended to two toddlers with Chicken pox whilst writing the business plan of a £350m pound company etc etc. The trouble is it gets harder and harder as they get older. Childcare gets more problematic, and they start to need you, when they are younger someone else can do the majority of the care, as they get older they need less feeding cleaning and watering but they start to have problems with Maths homework or playground bullies etc. and during holidays they cannot be put in the corner to be looked after by undergraduates. The sort of flexibility you need changes and it as much to do with headspace as anything. I spent the entire summer of my Master's diss caught between their needs and my diss and yes the diss was spread out across the table in the kitchen of our holiday villa. All of my friends have now resorted to freelance careers and that is with the greater flexibility in business. Last but not least you want to take them to the exhibitions and museums that sparked your own fascination and to have time to talk about their own studies. It is slightly harder for me in that both my DDs are dyslexic and so have needed even more support from me but really it would have been very hard to have tried to progress an academic career.

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