MSc, MRes, MPhil, PhD, EngD: the postgraduate engineering options
Masters courses in engineering
The MSc is largely a taught course that lasts for one year (full time) and focuses on a particular subject; sometimes a short dissertation is required.
MRes and MPhil degrees are also one-year courses but involve producing a substantial piece of research. Whether taught or research-based, a masters degree will provide you with an in-depth knowledge of a specific subject – as well as transferable skills that can give you the edge over a graduate straight from an engineering degree.
An MPhil or MRes will also give you a thorough training in research skills and hence is an excellent foundation for pursuing a doctorate. There are also a number of part-time masters courses available, though these tend to be taken up by those who have already been working for a while rather than fresh graduates, as some support from an employer is usually required.
Traditional doctorates: PhDs
The PhD is the traditional 'academic' research-based doctorate in the UK. A PhD normally takes three years and should involve ground-breaking research. It's a good option if you want to develop expertise in a particular field of interest and/or wish to become an academic. You will be allocated a supervisor to guide and oversee your research, and you will also benefit from working alongside other PhD students and researchers in the department. It is possible to do a PhD that incorporates an element of industry related training, taking on a research project that has been defined with dual input from an academic department and an industry partner. On this type of scheme you would spend at least three months based on the premises of the industry sponsor.
Engineering doctorates: EngDs
The advantage to employers of recruiting postgraduates with specialist engineering knowledge as well as transferable skills developed during their research was formally recognised with the creation of the four-year engineering doctorate in 1992. An EngD focuses on commercially relevant research: typically a project that presents a research challenge while simultaneously solving a genuine problem faced by the industrial sponsor. EngD students spend 75 per cent of their time working on the employer site with a supervisor from within the organisation. The remaining time is spent at the university studying specialist technical and professional development subjects to prepare the 'research engineer' for industry management roles. Research suggests that EngD graduates have even better prospects with engineering employers than PhD or masters graduates as they have gained experience in the industry.
Choosing the right postgraduate course for you
Selectivity when choosing your postgraduate engineering course is important, as the content will vary considerably from course to course and institution to institution. Our case-studies vary from a biomedical engineer to one specialising in manufacturing systems, and also to sustainable energy. Understanding the different focus of your courses will be important, as your study opens up certain paths within the wider engineering sector to you.
Thanks to Richard Shearman, director of formation at the Engineering Council UK, for his help with this text.