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Silly research question

(12 Posts)
CancellyMcChequeface Thu 02-Jun-16 22:03:50

Hi!

I'll be going into the last year of my undergraduate degree in October, hopefully on-track for a First, and I'm starting to think about what to do next. I'd really love to do qualitative case study research. I'm dipping into it a little with my undergraduate dissertation, which I'm really looking forward to, but if I could choose to do anything it'd be a more extended study around a particular group/issue that interests me (I'm being intentionally vague here, but I know exactly what I'd like to research and am fairly sure it'd contribute at least a little new knowledge to the field).

I could, of course, consult the lecturers at my university, but I have the feeling this is the kind of silly obvious question which everyone else already knows the answer to. I'm a non-traditional mature student with no previous connection to or experience of academia, and I really don't know how most of this works.

So, for me to carry out my research, would a research master's degree be the best option? It seems logical, but I don't know if a year is long enough to go into the sort of depth that I want to, especially if it's combined with taught modules. Or am I being far too ambitious and this isn't the sort of thing people tend to do unless they're much further into an academic career? Any advice would be very welcome.

calamityjam Thu 02-Jun-16 22:08:27

I'm going into year 2 of my degree in September, I'm also a mature student. I think to advise you, we would probably need to know a bit more about your degree and what you want to achieve from your post grad studies.

SoftSheen Thu 02-Jun-16 22:10:36

If you are REALLY interested in doing research then think seriously about doing a PhD. In some fields it is preferable to do a masters first, in others it isn't necessary. Availability of funding also varies between different fields, but it is possible to get funding for both research and living expenses.

Talk to your lecturers: giving careers advice is part of their remit.

RobinsAreTerritorialFuckers Fri 03-Jun-16 08:19:26

I'm an academic in humanities, but to my knowledge, this is the sort of research you would not typically do single-handedly until later, though depending on the time frame it might fit into some MA courses.

Do ask your lecturers. I guarantee other people won't just know the answer to this one, no.

But also, you can look at MA/PhD courses online - it takes a bit of time, but just take your own university website for example, click on their info for postgraduate students, and see what the MA course involves. Then look at a lot of other universities. You should be able to see whether or not any of them look promising. You should also be able to find examples of the kinds of PhDs people are currently doing, and this may also help you to see whether or not your project looks like a PhD-type study.

ChipInTheSugar Fri 03-Jun-16 08:36:30

You could always do a smaller scale version now and expand it at Masters level? Masters degrees give you so many more skills and depth of knowledge which would enable you to expand on it in ways you can't know now (sorry if that sounds pretentious, it's not meant to be!)

erinaceus Fri 03-Jun-16 08:49:20

CancellyMcChequeface

I could, of course, consult the lecturers at my university, but I have the feeling this is the kind of silly obvious question which everyone else already knows the answer to. I'm a non-traditional mature student with no previous connection to or experience of academia, and I really don't know how most of this works.

I really do not think that this is the kind of silly obvious question which everyone else already knows the answer to. Students who are not mature students do now know the answer to this either. It seems to me that you are asking, what sort of research project is reasonable in size and scope to fit into a Masters degree. This is precisely the sort of question that a lecturer in your field should be able to answer. In my experience, may people do not ask this question until it is too late, set out to do something wildly ambitious, and scale back as the deadline approaches - for the Undergraduate, Masters or even PhD thesis.

From what others on the thread have said, you might find that what you have in mind is more on the scale of a PhD, in which case you could plan to do a Masters first to build up the skills and understanding that you will need to have in order to do the main research project as a PhD. Alternatively you could do an MA then do the research outside of the frame of a PhD degree, working as a research assistant, which has its pros and cons.

One option would be to read some Masters and PhD theses in your area to get a sense of the scale of those projects. At our university they are available online or in the library as hard copies; your lecturers might be able to point you towards a couple of relevant ones. I do not mean read end-to-end but have a look and get a sense of the scope of the work.

If you decide that this project you have in mind is of PhD scale, do come back here for more advice on deciding whether this is the route that you want to go down, and how to get funding or make the project feasible in various ways.

Good luck!

jclm Fri 03-Jun-16 10:57:18

There is still some funding for PhD studies to be had. The problem is what to do after finishing. There are very very few jobs in academia unfortunately. If you're interested in this career route have a read of THES to give you some careers guidance.

Most people I knew as a PhD student have left academia due to not being able to find a jib (including me). Most of those that have stayed are underemployed or working 60 hours a week. Also check the threads on here to see if this is the type of work you want to do. X

erinaceus Fri 03-Jun-16 11:46:05

jclm raises a good point. Within academia, any job outside academia is viewed by some academics with suspicion or hostility; outside academia, a PhD on your CV may be a help or a hindrance depending on what job you would like to do.

If you set your sights on a PhD, do think about what you will realistically do afterwards. For some people the PhD is worth doing in and of itself; however there is quite an opportunity cost to doing a PhD. You mentioned that you are a mature student. Doing a Masters and/or PhD student part-time whilst working could be one option which many people do successfully although it looks devilishly difficult to me.

FoggyBottom Fri 03-Jun-16 20:04:26

So, for me to carry out my research, would a research master's degree be the best option? It seems logical, but I don't know if a year is long enough to go into the sort of depth that I want to, especially if it's combined with taught modules

This may sound harsh - but on the evidence of this sentence in your OP you really do need the start of research training that is an MA. Whenever people tell me they've "discovered" something that no-one else has, and that it's a major project, it's generally a signal that they haven't actually read anything much, but just had an admittedly very food idea.

But so had many scholars before them.

The PhD is the place whee you do much more independent work, where you really can claim that you need more than a year. You learn how to adjust research projects - research questions, methods, dissemination - to the time & resources available.

You can use the Masters as an 'undergrowth clearing' exercise for your PhD, but believe me, at UG level, it is very rare to have lighted upon a research field with research data that no-one else has investigated.

But ... the ideas that you've started to forge, and the awareness you have of what you want to do, are wonderful starting points for learning about independent research.

FoggyBottom Fri 03-Jun-16 20:09:13

good idea - shouldn't post while I'm eating supper!

CancellyMcChequeface Fri 03-Jun-16 22:32:17

Thank you everyone for all the input and advice! A few things:

It's probably a good idea for me to talk to people at my own university and I'll do that once I've looked into my options a bit more and have clear questions to bring to them.

I know that I'm in no way ready to carry out this research right now! I'm aware that there's such a lot I don't know yet and I'm not opposed to doing an MA in the slightest. The reason I said that the particular project I'm thinking of might not be right for M-level is that having recently read several Masters' theses in preparation for my dissertation, I don't think the scale is quite right. I could be wrong, or it could be that my ideas are currently much too vague or over-ambitious and could do with a lot of refining - which is one of the reasons I started this thread, I suppose!

I have no long-term plan as such yet. I'm doing much better at university than I ever expected to and am being encouraged to carry on with my studies. I'm really enjoying the intellectual challenge, having done fairly low-skilled work for most of my career so far. An MA definitely seems like something I could reasonably achieve if I worked at it, even if I focused on something else and not this pet project - it isn't my only interest, by any means. I also really like the idea of working as a research assistant at some point and will look into that further as well. I might find jumping straight into a PhD a bit daunting, even if there's the opportunity for more in-depth research.

I don't have to make any decisions for quite a while yet but I think it's important to look ahead and be aware of my options, even if I decide not to pursue an academic career - having done a little bit of reading, it sounds much more stressful than I imagined it! Thank you again for helping me out with this, I really appreciate the honest opinions.

jclm Sat 04-Jun-16 01:29:15

If you like the challenge of writing there are much cheaper ways of doing this than an MA. Eg have you thought about writing articles for newsletters or blogs in your area? Or helping to write funding applications for charities on a voluntary basis. Both these things I have been doing in my struggle to find work.

BTW there are very very few research assistant jobs (these are temp contracts) and you would probably need to relocate x

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