Demystifying Study in the UK & Ireland

Perhaps the best bit of advice I ever received as an early-stage graduate student in the UK was to “find my champion.” Meaning, I needed to find the individual or select group of individuals who would stand in my corner as I fought through an, at times, isolating and very rigorous experience. Not only would they provide the academic guidance, but would make sure that I could take every advantage of what my university had to offer, rather than getting lost in the very complex system. It is also a key piece of advice especially given that, at most institutions in the UK, there’s limited course-work or “introduction” to your subject; you hit the ground running with your research and you will be far more successful with a champion coaching you along the way.

Do you speak English? (A lovely and entertaining video)

A Bit of Definition

  • The tutorial system: the one-to-one teaching environment, or small seminars vs. large lectures and the most famous and widely utilized pedagogical system in the UK and Ireland
  • The multi-tiered university structure of institutions like Oxford and Cambridge:
  1. The University – the overall governing body
  2. The College – Academic and social care of students; tutors and faculty live and work within the colleges; college selection is usually determined by a) the faculty working there in discipline relevant to your own and b) the demographic of the student population
  3. The Faculty and Sub-Faculty – the departmental structure made up of discipline specific teaching faculty

Degree Structures

  • MSt. or MSc. (Masters of Studies) – One year master’s course with exams and/or thesis in addition to course-work in a nine-month period. Relatively new additional to the degree granting system in the UK largely seen as accommodating international students transitioning into higher degree programs
  • M.Phil. (Masters of Philosophy) – Two year master’s course suited to disciplines requiring extensive field-work, thesis research, etc.
  • D.Phil. (Doctorate of Philosophy) – Two-four year doctoral course following two years of  masters level work. This is the terminal equivalent to the Ph.D.

More Resources