Taking an M.Res (and Not an M.Sc) Degree in the United Kingdom

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Gabriella Gita Febriana earned her M.Res. (Master of Research) from the United Kingdom in 2012. Wait, M.Res.? You may assume that Postgraduate programs in the United Kingdom only generate a M.Sc. (Master of Science) title, when there are other possible titles depending on the content and purpose of your program, such as M.Res. and M.Litt. (Master of Letters). In this article, Ella aims share her knowledge about the M.Res. degree, based on her experience of undertaking M.Res. Immunobiology in Newcastle University, United Kingdom. How does M.Res. programs differ from M.Sc. ones? What are the benefits and drawbacks of holding a M.Res. title? How does a M.Res. help us in preparing for a Ph.D program? This is Ella’s story.      

It was that time in 2010 when I was a fresh graduate from Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), a person who was confused about what she would do next after graduating college. Yes, I had planned to take my Master’s degree abroad. However, at that time, I had zero idea about which Master’s program I should commit a year of my time to!

After some thoughts, I applied to three graduate programs – two in the United Kingdom, and one in France. M.Res Immunobiology program in Newcastle University was one of the programs I got accepted into. Not only did the University admit me into the program, they also granted me partial scholarship under the name of Newcastle University International Postgraduate Scholarship.

M.Res? The more common degree you would get from undertaking a Master’s degree abroad is an M.Sc., is it not? Indeed, I decided to take a rather unique path as M.Res programs give more emphasis on students’ research skills, whilst MSc programs focus more on students’ understanding of fundamental theories and concepts. M.Res. degrees are only given by UK and Australian academic institutions, and growingly by other countries in the European Union. Therefore, for those of you who are interested in or currently thinking of undertaking studies towards an M.Res degree, you need not be worried as you would still be eligible to pursue higher degrees in other European countries.

Usually, most UK students take an M.Res degree as a stepping stone before they start their PhD research. In my case, I took an M.Res because I aimed to continue my PhD degree right after I finish my Master’s, although my initial plans ultimately did not materialize into reality.

The M.Res Immunobiology degree program which I was enrolled in the 2011/2012 period consisted of: a) lectures throughout the first semester until the very early part of the second semester, and b) research work for around six months in the second semester which resulted in an M.Res dissertation, a poster presentation, and a Dissertation defense. In the first semester, I had to take five courses, four of which were compulsory and one of which was an elective. Specifically, I was obliged to take “Applied Immunobiology of Common Diseases”, “Genetics of Common Diseases”, and “Statistical Methods” as my core Immunobiology courses, and chose “Cancer Studies” as my elective. On the onset of the second semester, we were required to take a course called “Experimental Design for In Vivo Research” which lasted only for one back-to-back session and resulted in a case study report. At the end of the first semester, we were given a list on the research projects available for us to undertake as our M.Res project. At this level, we cannot propose our own research project.

What was more challenging for me, doing the courses on the first semester or undertaking the research project? Both. As a person who completed all of her basic formal education levels in Indonesia, I experienced a bit of a culture shock when I faced the UK education system for the first time. UK students are more aggressive (in academically-positive terms) than the majority of Indonesian students. Also, honestly speaking, UK teaching professors are not as good as Indonesian lecturers in terms of delivering lecture materials, at least in my experience. Indeed, students are expected to be independent learners! In my University’s exam system (which may or may not apply to other Universities and programs), students are allowed to do a re-sit exam if they fail on their first attempt. Thankfully, I passed all of the exams on my first attempt!

Another challenge I faced during my second semester was when I did not get my preferred research project. As I said, we could not choose our own project at this level. I was so keen on conducting a project on primary biliary cirrhosis – mostly because it sounded super cool – but I got a project on Autoimmune diseased. I was disappointed at first, yet really thankful that I got the Autoimmune project because this unexpectedly led me to many future opportunities.

Research life is not always filled with eureka moments. There were some (highly) stressful moments, especially when I realized that I only had a limited time to produce, at the very least, acceptable research results. We were only given 2 weeks to write our whole M.Res dissertation after the research! I was extremely lucky that my co-supervisor had asked me to begin the introduction and methodology parts of my dissertation earlier. All in all, I completed my whole research – the beginning, the actual research, and the writing – in 5 months.

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If I ask myself today whether I was satisfied with the results I obtained for my M.Res, the answer is no. I would have had better results had I been given more time. Then again, completing my M.Res dissertation in such a short period amount of time was an achievement in its own right, especially considering that it was my first exposure to a real medical research environment.

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After graduating with an M.Res degree in December 2012, I went back to Indonesia and equalized my degree certificate. I was not that surprised at the time when I found out that Indonesia’s Ministry of Higher Education did not recognize this M.Res degree and asked me to bring an information booklet on it. However, I think Indonesia has now already recognized M.Res degree as more and more people have worked towards obtaining it.

Afterwards, I took a lecturing job in a private university in Indonesia. At that time, I thought that I needed to have a few years of teaching and research experiences before I embark on a PhD study. When the university registered myself in the Ministry of Higher Education portal, they still did not recognize my academic degree and put an MSc behind my name instead. I have just checked on my data recently and they still have not made any changes! Somehow I would like to complain, because I think an M.Res degree requires more efforts to obtain.

All photos are courtesy of the author.