MSc Research Methods in Psychology….a swiz for some students

In the last couple of years I’ve known some students who’ve been turned down for a place on MSc Research Methods in Psychology courses because they have a 2:2.

This seems to be recent phenomenon. Traditionally, the MSc has been a conversion course for non-psychologists and for students with 2:2’s to bring them “up to standard” for a career in research.

Not anymore, apparently. Who are on these courses now? Students with 2:1’s or 1sts who want to do PhDs.

My issue with this is that if you have a 2:1 or a 1st you don’t need to do an MSc!

I have two reasons for this statement. Firstly, if you want to do a PhD you are more than qualified to go straight onto the PhD programme. Secondly, if you want to do a PhD then you will do these courses in the first year of your PhD anyway. You are being conned! You are paying for something twice!

Now, if you aren’t sure research is your bag, or haven’t made up your mind what you would like your thesis to be on, then they are perfect for you. But, if you have the qualifications and know what you want to do then go straight into the PhD.

And, it is the ESRC we have to thank for this. They started it off about a decade ago with their 1+3 studentships whereby they would pay for the MSc and the PhD. Those wanting to apply for the +3 awards had to already have the MSc. But, back then, if you weren’t going to apply for an ESRC award (and given how few go out to psychology students especially outside the “golden triangle”) you would be very sensible to save your money and apply straight for the PhD.

And, of course, universities got in on this game, and re-jigged their programmes so that they encouraged students to chase after elusive ESRC awards that they were highly unlikely to get, and the whole admissions process for the MSc seems to have been corrupted. Even departments not part of doctoral training centres appear to have taken on this admissions model.

Who loses out? The very students that those MScs are there to benefit.

Anyone who has had a PhD student knows that academic qualifications are a terrible indicator on suitability for studying for a PhD. Some of the best students got a 2:2 but got a 1st in their undergraduate project. It is the latter which is the better yard stick.

For any of you finding yourself in this boat with a 2:2, no place on an MSc, but you know that research is what you want to do, then there is one option. It won’t be easy. But, find someone to mentor you. You’ll probably end up working voluntarily but offer your services to run some experiments. Encourage your mentor to help you with stats training, introduce you to philosophy of science, critically analyse papers, help write up data or analyse an outstanding data set (if you have a good mentor they probably have years worth of data waiting to be analysed and written up). You don’t need to be there everyday so you could work it around a part-time job (which will help pay for the holy MSc the following year).

Don’t be disheartened and don’t give up! If research is what you want to do realise that the 2:2 is no indicator of your likely success in research.

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