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Franka Zlatic

Croatian in the UK. Franka is full-time PhD student at University of Nottingham, pursuing her degree in Sociology.

Masters vs PhD: Which is right for you?

Even though a PhD usually comes after you’ve finished your Masters, there are some exceptions that will allow you to transition into a PhD program.

For example, some courses offer an Honours year that will give you the option of skipping your Masters and go straight into a PhD and some programmes offer 1+3 year courses, which means that you automatically continue to pursue a PhD once you’ve graduated your Masters.

If you are deciding on whether to pursue a Masters, a PhD or perhaps both, and you have second thoughts about which option is better for you, here are few pros and cons that can help you decide.

What do you want to do?

No matter which discipline you’re studying, the biggest decision related to whether to pursue a PhD is to ask yourself about what you want to do later in your life.

If you want to to continue into academia and teaching at a university, then a PhD is the right choice. There are very small chances of get a teaching job at a university unless you have a PhD as a minimum.

The same also applies if you are looking to get a job as a researcher or a scientist. Many research institutes require a PhD level for their applicants so if you want to be a scientist of any kind, so a PhD will open those doors for you.

On the other hand, if you have no interest in teaching and working with students and would prefer working in the industry, there’s no reason for you to apply for a PhD.

For some industry jobs, even bachelor’s degree can be sufficient, but with a Masters, you’ll have a bigger chance of progress. A Masters degree will give you the additional knowledge and experience to specialise in your chosen field.


Do you like to study?

It sounds very vague, but having a PhD means you’ll have to continue studying for at least the next 3-4 years full time, then possibly the rest of your life if you pursue the life of an academic.

Life as an academic means you’ll have to keep up with recent research and be able to transfer all that knowledge to the younger generations and students. That includes lots of reading, researching and writing – basically your learning continues but becomes more academic.

But, If you were someone that couldn’t wait for your Bachelors to end, and you can’t imagine yourself reading and studying for more than you actually need to, then pursuing a PhD might not be the right choice.

However, with a Masters you can find good jobs and establish a stable career in your industry once you graduate, so it’ll be more about using the knowledge you have in a practical way rather than a career spent acquiring new knowledge all the time.

Time and commitments

Becoming a researcher takes time, and PhD is a best way to become a scientist. However, PhD lasts typically 3-4 years full time and 6-7 years part time. That means that you have to dedicate a significant amount of your life to completing your PhD.

On a different note, Masters takes one to maximum two years and it does allow a dose of flexibility since many people who are working full-time often enroll into a Masters to get ahead in their chosen field or to gain entry into a new industry.

PhD is not something that allows you to be flexible as it requires your constant attention and progress. Even if it’s part time.

Many students can’t wait to start working, change jobs, move places, travel and generally, most people like flexibility. With a Masters, you can also enjoy established and lengthier break times.

There are still Christmas, spring and summer breaks that will allow you to travel, get some rest and balance commitments with your family and work.

On the other hand a PhD is more like a full-time job you have to finish within a certain deadline, so you might not have that option available to you if you have a lot of work, family and financial commitments to consider.


Independence and learning

One of the biggest differences between a Masters and a PhD is the way each of them is structured. Masters is organised in a similar way as bachelors, especially if it’s coursework based. You’ll have lectures, exams and essays to submit and that’s it.

A research-based Masters is a bit more oriented towards research but you are still supported by professors or supervisors and your research is highly monitored and closely supervised.

However, doing a PhD means while you still have your supervisors’ support, it’s not as much. You’re mostly on your own, making decisions and finding justifications for your research with your supervisors there to show you the way.

At some point of your PhD you’re also expected to teach (and maybe even speak in front of crowds at conferences or forums), so you’ll have to ask yourself if public speaking is something you feel comfortable with.

Whether you choose to pursue a PhD or a Masters, or both, they are advanced form of studies that require you to be strongly motivated to succeed.

The main difference between a Masters and a PhD is where do you see yourself in the future. Both of them bring excellent career opportunities and you’re not going to make a mistake with either of them.

Did you find this article helpful?

You can explore more stories by international students in our blog.


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