A PhD Without A Masters Degree

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‘That was the way it always used to be’: for many years in the United Kingdom the PhD came after the Bachelors degree, without the interlude of a Masters. Whilst some undergraduate degrees still lead to a Masters qualification, and many people still complete Masters degrees, it is possible here to do a PhD without a Masters. 


Firstly, there is the creative side: your ideas are new and fresh and you have lots of creativity. Secondly, there is the economic reasoning: a Masters degree can be a costly affair and although there are bursaries and schemes available they often still require costly personal contributions.


The Masters degree exists to show that the student can study at a higher level and this year allows you to practice the necessary skills, and most importantly see whether a larger research project, or research alone, is right for you. Additionally, in several British universities the Masters dissertation forms a part of the PhD so you are potentially gaining one to two extra years to make your original contribution to the field. 


As with any PhD application, it is really important to check your eligibility with the universities you have chosen and the funding bodies you might be applying to. Different institutions have different regulations, and in some cases a Masters might be compulsory, especially abroad. Also, make sure you have lots of evidence in your application about why you would make a good doctoral student and try and give concrete examples of you working at the equivalent of Masters level.

PhD without a Masters – a few coping strategies

The first few months can be overwhelming at times but the first thing to remember is that if your application has been successful people believe that you can do it!

If you are coming straight from a Bachelors ask your future supervisor if they would mind reading through a longer piece of work. For example, you can take a piece of your final year work or a dissertation and extend it to 20,000 words, a common taught Masters dissertation length.

In your first term try and reread your research proposal once a week and review it critically. The nature of research is that it changes but it is also useful to remember what you proposed to do.

Sign up to university workshops about PhD research – many run a one day skills session covering everything from communication to project managing. But be careful not to sign up to everything though – you still need time to research.

As a PhD student you are part of a community of other doctoral researchers and this can be a great source of advice and wisdom, plus a great way of meeting new people.

In your first supervision set clear time goals for the first term and talk about the general structure of your first year. This gives you milestones you can work towards and breaks the project up into manageable chunks.

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