The Master of Research (MRes) Degree – A Guide |

The Master of Research (MRes) Degree – A Guide

Written by Mark Bennett

The Master of Research (MRes) is a research Masters degree that emphasises independent study over taught instruction. It isn’t restricted to specific subject areas. Instead an MRes is awarded on any programme that focusses on a student’s own research activity.

You might want to apply for an MRes if you’re considering postgraduate study, but would rather carry out your own research than follow a taught course.

This page explains what an MRes is, including information on the typical length, content, and the difference between an MRes and taught Masters such as the MA or MSc.

Or, to read about other varieties of Masters degree, start with our full guide to postgraduate qualifications.

What is an MRes?

The MRes or is a common research-based Masters degree. Its name stands for ‘Master of Research’.

Master of Research (MRes)
Type Research
Subjects All subjects
Qualification Level 7 (NQF)
Length 1-2 years
Credit Value 180 CATS / 90 ECTS
Availability Primarily UK

Whereas a taught Masters develops expertise in existing subject knowledge, an MRes places more emphasis on research expertise. In effect, the degree exists to train researchers, either for professional work or in preparation for a PhD.

You will still complete some taught units on an MRes. These will normally focus on practical topics such as research techniques and methodological principles. This distinguishes the MRes from a ‘full’ research Masters, such as the MPhil, which is usually based entirely on independent project work.

Defining an MRes

Universities vary in defining their postgraduate programmes. Some MRes programmes are actually categorised as ‘taught’ Masters degrees (distinguishing them from ‘pure’ research Masters qualifications such as the MPhil and PhD).

What are the entry requirements for an MRes?

The most important entry requirement for an MRes will be a Bachelors degree in a relevant subject (probably at a 2.1 or above).

In addition, you may also be asked to put forward a research proposal, or a personal statement describing your academic goals and interests. Admissions tutors will want to know that you have the enthusiasm and self-direction to complete a more independent program.

Is an MRes ‘worth’ more than a ‘taught’ Masters degree?

Like the MA or MSc, the MRes is still a ‘second cycle’ degree, following undergraduate study, but preceding doctoral-level research.

However, an MRes course may be more valuable to students following an academic career path, for whom the additional research training and experience is valuable.

An MRes may also be a useful final degree if you plan to work in a commercial or industrial career where some research experience is valuable, but a full PhD is not required.

What's the difference between an MRes and an MPhil?

The MRes is a self-contained qualification. This distinguishes it from other research Masters such as the MPhil (Master of Philosophy) which is normally a precursor to a PhD.

It’s simplest to think of the MRes as a research training qualification. The MPhil on the other hand, is a single research project. An MRes degree can prepare you for a PhD, whereas an MPhil may actually be part of one.

Some universities do award an MRes to PhD students who exit their programme early, but this is quite rare. Others award the MRes within a longer ‘1+3’ PhD programme.

MRes vs MSc / MA

The main difference to take into account when comparing an MRes with an MSc or MA is the way in which they’re delivered. While an MRes primarily consists of an extended, self-guided research project, MSc and MAs involve a selection of taught modules (as well as a dissertation).

And, on the topic of dissertations: an MRes dissertation / thesis is going to be longer than one completed as part of an MSc or MA. An MRes dissertation is around 35,000 words long, compare to 15-20,000 for an MA / MSc dissertation.

Both kinds of qualification are a year long and worth 180 CATS points.

MRes degrees within 1+3 PhD programs

If you know you want to continue to a PhD after your Masters you may wish to consider a ‘1+3’ program. These combine a Masters and a PhD. You’ll complete one year of Masters level work followed by three years at PhD level.

UK universities usually offer these ‘joint’ programmes as fully-funded pathways, designed to develop prospective researchers.

The Masters year of a 1+3 programme is often an MRes course, taking advantage of the degree’s focus on research training. Studying in this way will award you an MRes after one year of study and a PhD after four.

Interested in a 1+3 programme?

If you’re planning on completing a doctorate, an integrated Masters and PhD could be a great option (particularly as many of these programmes are fully funded!). You can find out more about 1+3 opportunities in our guide


Which countries award MRes degrees?

The Master of Research is a relatively new type of Masters, designed for students who wish to acquire research training at an earlier stage of the degree cycle.

It is most common in the UK and is offered as a research training qualification. Students either study an MRes to prepare for a PhD, or as a final degree providing professional research skills.

In Europe pure research degrees are rare at the ‘second cycle’ (Masters) level. Instead, most universities will expect you to acquire advanced subject knowledge through a taught Masters. You can then proceed to independent research at ‘third cycle’ (PhD) level.

Which subjects award MRes degrees?

Like higher research degrees, the MRes isn’t specific to a particular academic discipline. You can study an MRes in any subject, provided it offers enough scope for research training.

Some universities do distinguish between different types of MRes, mirroring the distinction between taught MA or MSc programs:

  • An MRes in Arts and Humanities subjects may be referred to as a ‘Master of Arts by Research’, commonly abbreviated to MARes or MA (Res).
  • An MRes in Science and Technology subjects may be referred to as a ‘Master of Science by Research’, commonly abbreviated to MScRes or MSc (Res).

There isn’t a consistent distinction between these specific qualifications and more ‘generic’ MRes programmes. Some universities may use ‘MA by Research’ or ‘MSc by Research’ (etc) to describe a programme with more taught components and subject-specific focus.

Who should study an MRes?

The MRes is ideal if your main goal is to acquire research training.

This might be because you want to prepare for a PhD. Though an MA or MSc includes a dissertation, the MRes offers much more research experience. It also provides more extensive research training, allowing you to really hit the ground running when you begin a PhD.

Alternatively, you may actually study an MRes because you don’t want to do a PhD. Many professions value research skills, but a full three-year PhD may not be necessary. An MRes offers a shorter, more focussed, route to research training.

Remember though, an MRes might present a more challenging transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study. You’ll still have some guidance and support (and won’t simply be thrown in at the deep end!) but there will be a more rapid emphasis on independent work.

Taught, or research?

Don’t worry if you’re not sure whether a taught or research Masters is right for you. Both have their advantages and it’s worth considering and comparing individual programs before making a decision. You can find more information in our guide to taught vs research Masters degrees. We've also taken a look at how the MA, MSc and MRes compare over on our blog.

What’s it like to study an MRes?

The MRes offers a fairly unique study experience. Despite its name, the degree actually sits somewhere between more conventional taught and research qualifications.

Studying an MRes will involve some of the taught instruction that defines an MA or MSc. But you’ll spend most of your time on extended research projects like those involved in an MPhil or PhD.

The exact balance between taught and research units varies between different MRes programs. The general requirement is for a programme to be at least 70% research, but individual courses will be organised differently.

Some may start with methodological training before transitioning into an extended research project. Others may intermix core taught units with independent project tasks. In some cases you may be able to choose for yourself whether or not to include taught units in your degree (up to a maximum number).

Whatever the format for your MRes the emphasis will very much be upon your own research work. Taught units will support this, but will not account for a large part of your overall grade.

How long is an MRes?

In the UK, an MRes usually requires at least one year of full-time study. Some courses can be longer, however. A part-time degree will normally last two years.

MRes degrees are much less common in Europe. Those that are available are likely to be longer – lasting up to two years.

Dedicated research Masters are also rare in other parts of the world. Most countries prefer to focus on taught instruction at Masters level, leaving advanced research for MPhil and PhD programs.

How many credits is an MRes worth?

An MRes is normally worth 180 UK credits.

Most of these will be earned through research. A typical MRes might involve around 160 credits of research work (in the form of multiple projects, or a single large dissertation). This will be supplemented by around 20 credits of training.

What are MRes research projects like?

In some ways the research you’ll do for an MRes is a lot like the final dissertation required for an MA or MSc.

You’ll select a topic, be assigned a supervisor and conduct an independent investigation before presenting a thesis of your findings.

As you’d expect, however, the research required by an MRes is much more extensive. (The degree is called a Masters of Research, after all!).

This might mean that you’ll be expected to complete multiple research projects. This is more likely for technical or professional subjects that require training in different types of research.

Or, you might simply complete one large project. If so, you can expect this to be much longer than the dissertation for a taught degree. Whereas an MA, for example, will usually require a dissertation of 15-20,000 words, an equivalent MRes project will be closer to 35,000 words (or more!).

The academic scope of your research may also be more demanding. You won’t be judged by PhD standards (for which a substantial original contribution to knowledge is required). But you may be expected to be closer to this level than an equivalent MA or MSc dissertation.

The advantage of this is that an MRes really does provide a full academic research experience. Whereas the dissertation is a single (but significant) part of a taught Masters, your work on an MRes will make you a proficient and professional researcher.

After that, taking the step up to PhD level may be surprisingly easy.

Search for an MRes now

The best way to decide whether an MRes is right for you is to compare some actual Master of Research programmes. Why not start looking now?

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Last updated: 10 July 2023