Transition from Undergraduate
Posted on: March 31, 2014 by: Mark Bennett
Making the Transition from Undergraduate to Postgraduate Research
Events like Posters in Parliament and the forthcoming annual BCUR conference at the University of Nottingham are a great incentive to develop your research interests and experiences as an undergraduate. By exhibiting a poster or giving a talk you’ve reached the most rewarding part of any academic project: presenting your findings to other students, scholars and the general public!
These are exactly the kinds of experiences postgraduate study is all about. On a Masters or PhD programme you’ll be able to pursue your research interests further as you develop your own ideas and become an independent scholar making a significant original contribution to your field.
But what is it actually like taking the step to postgraduate research? How does it compare to the work you’ve done as an undergraduate? What sorts of new experiences and challenges will it involve? Here are a few of the most important and exciting ways in which postgraduate research builds upon work at undergraduate level.
Becoming an independent scholar
Whereas undergraduate study is primarily about developing and demonstrating a solid competence in your subject area, postgraduate programmes ask you to go much further in developing your own critical voice. When researching for a Masters or PhD level degree you won’t just come to comprehend your field at an advanced level, you’ll also contribute to it with your own ideas.
For this reason, postgraduate courses are designed to develop your interests and capabilities as an independent scholar. Even taught programmes will ask you to regularly prepare for classes by investigating relevant primary and secondary material and research degrees are all about managing highly complex projects over extended periods. This may seem challenging (and it is!), but it’s also a great opportunity to pursue the interests you’ve developed at undergraduate level and become a real expert in the topics that most interest and engage you.
Developing expert research skills
Because independent research is so important to postgraduate study, most programmes will offer organised training in professional scholarship. Some of the resources and facilities you will use may be familiar from undergraduate level, but your engagement with them will be much more sophisticated. You’ll learn what the most important research outputs in your field are, how to access materials beyond your university’s holdings and how to properly record and critically assess what you find. These skills will help you appreciate and engage with the whole range of scholarship in your field as you seek to make your own unique contribution to it.
Getting more involved in your field
As Chloe points out in her blog about the recent BCUR Posters in Parliament event, one of the highlights of participating in a BCUR event is the opportunity to meet with other students and discuss each other’s work. This kind of scholarly dialogue and networking is central to postgraduate study. In addition to discussing and developing your ideas in conversation with other students, all levels of postgraduate study involve working closely with academic staff, discussing their own research and engaging with new and cutting edge scholarship in your field.
What’s more, you’ll have many more chances to attend events like those organised by BCUR. PhD students regularly present at important research conferences and many universities also run internal events at which postgraduates (including Masters students), are encouraged to exhibit and discuss their work.
Researching a postgraduate dissertation
The researching and writing of a thesis is the definitive component of a postgraduate degree. Even taught programmes will conclude with a substantial postgraduate dissertation and students on MRes, MPhil or PhD programmes focus almost entirely on independent research projects for the duration of their course. Though it might seem superficially similar to the independent project work you may have done at the end of an undergraduate degree, the postgraduate dissertation is a much more substantial piece of work. A Masters thesis usually takes several months to research and can be between 15,000 and 20,000 words long. A PhD thesis, on the other hand, is researched over several years and is usually substantial enough in both size and scholarly depth to form the basis of an academic monograph or provide material for several journal articles.
Whatever your degree programme, the thesis is where the research training and experience that postgraduate study is designed to develop comes to the fore. With guidance from an expert supervisor you will identify an original research question, devise a plan for compiling and investigating relevant primary and secondary material and eventually produce a sophisticated and persuasive explanation of your findings and conclusions.
Find out more about the postgraduate research opportunities available to you
If postgraduate research sounds like the kind of challenge you’re looking for as you develop your academic career, you can find out more about making the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study or check out our guide to PhD study, including a list of Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.findauniversity.com/ You can also search for your ideal Masters or PhD programme at FindAMasters.com. and FindAPhD.com