Postgraduate Research: What are your Options?

By Gemma Creagh - Last update


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Do you want to progress in your career or give yourself a competitive edge in the jobs’ market? Perhaps there’s a subject that you adore and you want academic recognition? Or have you just always fancied ticking that ‘Dr’ prefix box on forms? Presently, more and more people are going back to study postgraduate research programmes. Ahead of our free Education Expo on the 8th of September, we spoke with Rachel Keegan, the Graduate Studies Manager at DCU, about their full and part-time research opportunities. If this is an avenue you might be interested in exploring, come along to our expo, and chat to a member of DCU’s staff in person.

When it comes to undertaking a programme of research, what are the options available?

There are generally three types of research programmes that an applicant can consider applying for:
1. PhD – students will often enter initially onto a PhD-track programme with the option of transferring to the PhD after a period of study and successful completion of a transfer ‘examination’.
2. Masters by Research – often students who initially register for a Masters by Research will have the option to undergo a transfer ‘examination’ to move to the PhD register.
3.  Professional Doctorate – these as most commonly found in professional disciplines such as education, psychology, and engineering. They usually require the applicant to have several years of professional experience in the field.

What is the general structure of a PhD?

Most PhDs in Ireland are structured, meaning students are supported through their research with clear progression points, accredited and non-accredited training and education with the support of a supervisory panel. Structured programmes recognise that while successful completion and examination of the research thesis is core, students also require personal and professional development opportunities to ensure they are well prepared for their future careers.
A full-time PhD typically takes around 3 ½ years to complete with part-time studies taking around 5 years. During this time students will engage in a programme of research and training and often with activities such as presenting at conferences, publishing papers, taking accredited modules and tutoring activities.

When submitting applications to study, what would students need to consider?

For a number of universities, in Ireland and abroad, applications to postgraduate programmes cost a fee, so before making a formal application, students need to consider the following points:

1. Check you meet the entry requirements of the university.
These are listed on each of the Institutions’ websites. Students are normally required to have met a minimum level in their undergraduate/postgraduate studies. Some applicants will also be eligible to apply through recognition of their prior learning experiences. Non-native English speakers are also required to provide evidence of their English language competency.

2. Identify a potential supervisor and develop your research proposal or identify a funded research project, in which case your proposal is pre-defined.

3. Consider how your studies will be funded.
Discuss funding options with your proposed supervisor or employer. If you are self-funding your studies you should consult the fees section of the university website to determine the annual cost. Bear in mind the usual completion times and the differences in full and part-time fees.

4. Consider part and full-time options.
Applicants should give thought to whether full or part-time study is more feasible given work, family, and financial commitments. A research degree is a large undertaking and the practical and fiscal implications should be carefully thought through before registering.

5. Consult the university website for details on how to make a formal application to the university.

What would be the pros and cons of doing a PhD and/or Masters part-time?

Part-time research students are growing in numbers as more people consider completing a doctorate after several years of working in their field. Part-time studies allow you to continue working and often suit those with family and other commitments. To study part-time requires dedication and time, so the support of your family and employer is vital. A part-time doctorate typically takes around 5 years to complete and students are largely self-funded so financial planning is essential.

How would you go about finding a supervisor, project, and funding?

The route to finding a supervisor, project, and funding can be done in a few different ways:

1. You might respond to a specific research project opportunity offered by a supervisor or research centre. In this case, your proposal will most likely be pre-defined, and will require you to register full time. Also, this will quite likely include a scholarship.

2. You might apply for an advertised scholarship/funding opportunity offered by a funding body (such as the Irish Research Council). In this case, you will be required to have identified a supervisor and have a well-developed research proposal (see point 3).

3. You might make contact with a member of academic staff who is an expert in your area of interest, to discuss the possibility of undertaking a research project under their supervision. Often the supervisor will assist/direct the applicant in the preparation of a research proposal before they make a formal application to the university. We would always recommend that you have a least a preliminary proposal before making contact with any potential supervisors. Academic staff receive many requests for supervision, so a draft proposal will help you to demonstrate your knowledge of the topic, your writing skills, your understanding of the research process and potential methodologies you might use.

What advice would you give someone going back to study?

A research degree is a big undertaking so preparation is essential. Speak to family and your employer and be sure you can commit sufficient time to the project before you start. It is also a lengthy process, so make sure your chosen topic is one which will hold your interest for the next few years.
Spend time on your proposal before applying so you are clear of the direction you wish to take (this will save you time in the first few months), and actively engage with the activities and supports on offer to you once your register. Coming back to study after several years can be daunting so make use of the supports on offer to help you get up and running quickly. Most institutions run induction workshops, writing supports and research methods modules so plan time for these.

There are some important factors to consider! Check out DCU’s available courses now, or register now for the Education Expo, as places are free but limited.


Gemma Creagh

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