There are effectively two ways of studying an MPhil: You may register for the degree as part of a PhD pathway. Or you may register for a standalone MPhil qualification.
The nature of your registration will determine the length and assessment of your course, but its content will be the same.
Both ‘types’ of MPhil registration are pure research degrees. This distinguishes the MPhil from other research Masters (such as the MRes) which still include some taught units.
Like a PhD student, you’ll be assigned an expert supervisor. They’ll be responsible for guiding your project and providing mentoring for your development as a researcher.
You’ll have regular meetings with your supervisor at which you can discuss your ideas and receive feedback on work in progress. But most of your time will be spent working on your own initiative and taking responsibility for setting and meeting targets.
How long is an MPhil?
A standalone MPhil is normally two years long when studied as a full-time degree. Alternatively, you can study for four to five years part-time.
MPhil registration within a PhD programme normally lasts for one year. You will then transfer to full PhD registration after passing an upgrade exam.
What’s the difference between studying an MPhil and a PhD?
Studying an MPhil is a lot like studying a PhD. In fact, for many students, studying an MPhil is the first part of studying a PhD.
Both degrees are awarded based entirely on the strength of a candidate’s independent research. Instead of attending classes and completing assessments you’ll work on a single extended project.
MPhil and PhD projects are therefore distinguished by scope, not content. The key principle for this is the extent of a project’s original contribution to knowledge:
- For a PhD, this must be substantial and obvious. The project must offer significant new findings that future scholars will need to take account of.
- An MPhil thesis, on the other hand, only needs to demonstrate that its author has a thorough and critical understanding of their field in its current state. It doesn’t need to provide results that substantially advance that field.
One criteria that is often used to clarify this is the potential for publication of a thesis.
- A PhD project should include work of a publishable standard: its findings should be significant enough to be put forward as recognised academic scholarship.
- An MPhil project isn’t expected to meet this standard. Your findings should be valid and accurate, but they don’t have to be sufficiently significant to underpin any new academic publications.
These differences are why MPhil projects are shorter (both in length of study and word-count) and don’t face the same strict examination standards as a PhD.
How is an MPhil assessed?
As a research degree, your MPhil won’t normally include any taught units or coursework assignments. Instead you will be assessed entirely on the strength of your thesis.
This will involve an oral examination, similar to the formal viva voce that concludes a PhD. You’ll discuss and defend your work in front of a panel of examiners.
A slightly different process applies to MPhil upgrades.
What happens at an MPhil viva?
An MPhil viva will not normally be as long or intensive as a PhD viva.
It will primarily assess the accuracy of your findings and understanding, rather than the significance of your original contribution to knowledge. During your MPhil viva, you’ll probably be asked to summarise your thesis in a few minutes. You’ll also be asked questions on your methodology, theoretical framework and literature review.
What happens at an MPhil upgrade?
If you’re registered for an MPhil as the first part of a PhD programme, you will eventually sit an ‘upgrade exam’ in order to transfer your enrolment to that of a PhD student.
This will be similar to the viva that concludes an MPhil or PhD, but on a smaller and more informal scale.
You’ll normally submit a partial draft of your thesis (such as a first chapter, or literature review) or prepare some initial results. These will form the basis for a discussion with your supervisor and at least one other ‘examiner’ from within your university.
The ‘exam’ itself will focus as much on your future plans as on your work so far. You’ll need to demonstrate that your project has the potential required of PhD work and that you are making sufficient progress to complete it in a suitable timeframe.
If successful, your registration will be upgraded and you will eventually submit for the PhD degree, rather than the MPhil.
How many credits is an MPhil worth?
Like PhDs, most MPhil degrees don't have a credit value. This is because they aren’t made up of individually assessed modules or units.
It’s possible that your MPhil may include some initial training in research methods and that these will be given a nominal credit value. However, this won’t contribute to an overall credit value for your degree.
Despite not having a credit value, the MPhil is internationally recognised as a Masters-level degree.