Introducing Postgraduate Qualifications

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There is a wide variety of postgraduate qualifications available from Irish universities and other third-level institutions, each with potential pros and cons for different students. This section contains information on general entry requirements, typical course durations, and the modes of delivery and assessment for different kinds of qualification. Prospective students should bear in mind that it is possible to progress up the ladder to a PhD regardless of the level of entry.

Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas

Postgraduate certificates and diplomas usually last for one academic year. They tend to be vocational in content, and can often act as conversion courses for those who have no prior knowledge of a subject matter. Certificates tend to be more intensive than diplomas, and students may move onto a diploma course after completing their certificate programme. Examples include the Higher Diploma in Education, the Postgraduate Certificate in Business Studies and the Higher Diploma in IT.

  • Entry – Primary degree or other undergraduate qualification. Some courses accept related work experience
  • Duration – One year full-time or two years part-time
  • Delivery – Mixture of taught classes and practical and project work
  • Assessment –  Mixture of exams and continuous assessment
  • Progression – Students can often transfer onto a Masters course upon completion of their graduate certificate.

Taught Masters Degrees

Taking a Masters degree involves studying an academic subject in depth. Students generally choose to take a Masters in an area related to their primary degree, although this is not always the case. There are a number of different types of Masters postgraduate award. The most common are Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Sciences (MSc). Other qualifications available include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), the Master of Laws (LLM) and the Master of Engineering (ME).

  • Entry –  Undergraduate degree or transfer from postgraduate certificate or diploma programme
  • Duration –  One year full-time or two years part-time
  • Delivery – Lectures, seminars and tutorials throughout the year
  • Assessment –  Projects/papers during term-time, written (and in some cases oral) exams at certain times throughout the year, with a thesis generally submitted at the end of the course
  • Progression –  Normally the end of the road for taught classes, but students who attain good honours results can continue their studies through research to MPhil or PhD programmes.

Research Masters Degrees

For a research Masters programme, the student does not attend any classes or sit any exams; everything is geared toward the submission of a research project at the end of the course. A programme of study is devised in association with the students’ professor or supervisor, who provides guidance and advice during regular meetings. Students generally choose to take a Masters in an area related to their primary degree, although not always. There are a number of different types of postgraduate award. The most common are Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Sciences (MSc), but other qualifications available include the Master of Literature (MLitt), the Master of Laws (LLM) and the Master of Engineering (ME).

  • Entry – Undergraduate degree
  • Duration –  Typically one or two years, depending on the research topic chosen and the motivation of the student
  • Delivery – Generally all research, but in some cases students may be required to attend classes
  • Assessment –  Research project submitted at the end of the course
  • Progression – On completion of a research Masters, students who receive a good honours result can apply to transfer onto an MPhil or PhD programme

Master of Philosophy

The Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is a special type of programme that can last longer than other Masters programmes – two years is the norm. The MPhil is usually research-based, although some do include taught elements, and it is pitched at a higher standard than MA or MSc awards. Students carry out supervised research in their chosen topic (which doesn’t have to be Philosophy) and produce a substantial thesis at the end of the course. MPhil students would typically intend to progress on to a PhD.

  • Entry – Good undergraduate or Masters degree
  • Duration – Typically two years
  • Delivery –  Mixture of taught and research or purely research
  • Assessment – Generally a research project, sometimes with an oral exam
  • Progression – MPhil students are typically planning to progress on to a PhD

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The PhD is the highest academic degree awarded. Traditionally, it means that the candidate has reached a sufficient standard to be accepted into academia. The PhD is the most common type of doctorate, although there are others available – including the Doctor of Laws (LLD) and Doctor of Letters (DLitt). Most doctorates are completed by research and candidates are generally required to produce a substantial dissertation, which must make a definite contribution (however modest) to human knowledge. Many colleges require students to defend their work in front of a panel of experts, a process known as ‘viva voce’. Honourary doctorates, typically awarded to celebrities like Roy Keane or Bob Geldof, do not require this vigorous defence and do not carry the same weight of respect in academia.

  • Entry – Most PhD students will possess a good Masters degree. Progression from MPhil and research Masters programmes is common. Less usual, but not unheard of, is the progression of students moving straight from a Bachelors degree onto a PhD
  • Duration –  Depends on the topic chosen and the motivation of the student, but three to four years full-time or five to six years part-time is a typical duration
  • Delivery – Research
  • Assessment – Thesis and sometimes an oral exam
  • Progression –  Post-doctorate research

Important to note: These guidelines are indicative only. Course characteristics can vary from discipline to discipline and from institution to institution. The only way to be sure is to contact the individual school hosting the course.


troy

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