Postgraduate Masters courses
A MSc, or Master of Science is a postgraduate degree which usually provides training in a specific subject area relevant to industry (such as engineering geology or petroleum). Unlike the integrated masters, an MSc is an additional, stand-alone qualification applying knowledge and skills gained at undergraduate level to a particular field. It is an important first step in continuing professional development (CPD) which will continue throughout your career.
MSc courses are either 1 or 2 years in duration. A 1 year MSc will often run through an entire academic year, typically including a significant independent project which runs through the summer. Students applying for an MSc will normally hold (or be about to complete) a BSc (Hons) undergraduate degree in the lower second class (2.2) or above.
MSc vs MRes
Masters vary in the amount of taught content versus independent research.
A standard taught masters (MSc), which is most common, typically involves two-thirds taught material and one-third project work. A MRes (Masters through Research) is typically one-third taught content and two-thirds project-based, and is often aimed at those intending to continue along an academic career path (by progressing to a PhD, for example).
These are similar to an undergraduate MSci/MGeol independent research project. However, they are usually double the length, in terms of word count (typically 10,000 to 20,000 words), but must be completed in about 3 months, less than half the time of an MSci/MGeol project. Nevertheless, unlike an MSci/MGeol project they do not usually overlap with any taught classes.
Projects are usually organised by students themselves (i.e. courses rarely have a ready-made set of projects for all incoming students). Projects are arranged throughout the year; some months in advance of the start date, which is usually late May to early June, while others can be set up only days before.
It depends entirely on the course and the university, but staff members are generally the best first point of call when looking for a project. Even though they may not end up acting as a supervisor they will most likely know about other potential supervisors (both internal and external) that may be running suitable projects.
Additionally, various external organisations and companies may approach members of staff about taking on MSc students to carry out projects they have set up. Staff usually circulate these adverts/requests very swiftly. Some are more popular, and therefore more competitive, than others.
During the three months of a project, MSc students will undertake some or all of the following activities and work:
- Sampling/mapping trip(s) to the area of interest with the supervisor or as part of an internship with a company/organisation
- Laboratory work, including sample preparation, microscopic analysis and other laboratory techniques (e.g. geochemical analyses or geomechanics testing)
- Data and/or image analysis, interpretation and presentation
- Computer programming and modelling of a variety of geological phenomena
- A review of all relevant scientific literature (‘literature review’)
- A completed and successfully defended dissertation.