Apologies for the delay in sending this to the phd-design list, and leaving
people perhaps puzzled at you aswering a hidden message.
>From my memory, the history of the MPhil in the UK relates more to moves
towards the provision of coursework-based Masters in the 1970s and 1980s.
In the late 1980s, positivism still reigned and the MSc was generally
viewed as the 100% research-based Master's degree (often 3 or more years,
70,000 words and upward for the thesis, and often at a higher theoretical
level of analysis than many current PhDs). There was a slightly different
understanding of the meanings of 'Art' and 'Science' in degree titles
then - for example I have a B.A. (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering because
some institutions viewed engineering design as an art.
During the 1980s, the 'Sc' in MSc became more tightly and more exclusively
tied to the Natural Sciences and technical subjects. At roughly the
same time, institutions started to deliver Masters degrees in Natural
Sciences and Technical subjects with a substantial coursework component.
The upshot was that there was no longer a distinctive title for Masters
degrees undertaken 100% by research. The title 'MPhil' emerged as the
main title for this award - to the consternation of many old-timers with
100% research-based MScs.
I am not sure that the 'consolation prize ' argument applies historically.
I seem to remember that there was a 'burning the boats' feeling about
transferring to PhD because it precluded backtracking and being awarded
a Masters if the PhD didn't work out. Perhaps it is different now?
On another tack (not in the original message to you ) is the matter of
the research instrument. One means of differentiating between Masters
and PhD research is the candidate's relationship to the research instrument(s)
used in gathering the data on which their theory-making (and thesis) is
based. Masters level research is based on the relatively uncritical use
of one or more research instruments (questionnairre, survey, structured
interview etc) used to gather information in a situation that the research
instrument hasn't been used for before but which it is well suited. In
contrast, the PhD candidate is expected to devise the research instruments
that they will use for particular applications in their research. As part
of this, they are expected to be able to define the theoretical position
from which they are undertaking their research, understand the different
possibilities in research instrument design and the limitations of different
choices and justify their choices for the purposes that they will apply
these instruments. As the data is collected, the PhD candidate is expected
to reflect on the quality of their data in light of the particular characterist
ics of the research instruments they have chosen. The candidate is then
expected to take into account the ontological, epistemological and methodologic
al issues associated with how particular research instruments gather data
in building and justifying new theory.
Thus, from this perspective, a Masters student is expected to apply an
existing research instrument competently. A PhD candidate, however, is
expected to be able to 'design' new research instruments competently.
The measure of new knowledge for differentiating between the awards is
relatively spurious becasue both would be expected to produce new knowledge
(even the application of an 'old' research instrument to a 'new' situation
will lead to some form of contribution to knowledge).
Dr. Terence Love
Love Design and Research
GPO Box 226
Western Australia 6030
Tel & Fax: +61 8 9305 7629
Email: [log in to unmask]
Copyright © 2000 by Terry Love. All rights reserved. This text
may be quoted and printed freely with proper acknowledgment.
From: "E.M. Young" <[log in to unmask]>
To: Internet Mail::[[log in to unmask]]; Internet Mail::[Paul Murty <[log in to unmask]
cc: Internet Mail::[PhD Design List <[log in to unmask]>]
Subject: Re: Design PhD Article - Masters and Doctoral work
Date: 8/8/00 11:04 AM
I don't know about your institution, but mine has a clear demarcation
between the Masters and the PhD. It is original contribution to
knowledge. While it is clear that this may be interpreted broadly, it
would seem a useful construct to begin with rather than the 'weighty'
metaphor, as I think you suggest by introducing the musical metaphor.
Perhaps an issue to consider here is what I have come to think of as a
difference of perception between the British and the American university
systems. [Note: the following may be offensive to some. It is based on
observation, not on empirically collected data.]
The British system tends to give an MPhil as a kind of consolation prize
for work not quite deemed up to the standard of a PhD. I have heard this
degree referred to as a 'terminal degree' in the UK. The Masters degree
does not seem to carry this 'baggage'. In the US, there is no MPhil as
such, and the Masters has often been not the consolation prize or the
terminal degree but a degree one achieved either along the way to a PhD
or as a degree that provides an amount of credibility in certain
Some years back (fifteen or twenty) some US institutions started
'fast-tracking' some students by awarding the Masters as a matter of
course for completing what are called 'core' units while they were
working toward the PhD. In some cases, the Masters was given and some
students were called into offices to be told by their supervior or
committee chair that this was the highest degree that they would be
awarded at that particular institution (shades of the British 'terminal'
degree); however, I know of several instances in which students went on
to other institutions where they completed their PhDs and remained quite
happily in academia. In some US institutions, the Masters degree was
dispensed with entirely and students emerged from a BA program directly
into a PhD program without mention of a Masters along the way. My
recollection is that this was somewhat unusual twenty years ago, but
there may be other observations out there as well.
As our global world has shrunk, different expectations from different
sides of the 'pond' have conflated into a real hash of expectations by
both individuals and institutions. In the US, there are many PhDs and
many professors, in part because there is usually more than one
professor per department (as is typical in the UK). In the highly
competitive market for academic positions in the US, where,
incidentally, the pay has been a bit better than the pay in the UK, it
is not usually possible to obtain a 'tenure track' position (a position
with the possibility of being made a professor -- or the usual kind of
position one would want and expect in the US) without a PhD. This has
become particularly true in the last twenty years at smaller
institutions, but it has for much longer been the case at larger and
more prestigious institutions. In effect (and this is quite
oversimplified), the individual in the US earns a PhD with the
expectation that the US institution will reward him or her with a
combination of tenure and a professorship. This has not been an
individual's expectation in the UK, historically; however, it seems to
me that there are more individuals seeking broader choices in the world
today and the PhD is arguably becoming a 'ticket to ride' a number of
I currently live in Australia, which up until relatively recently
appeared to be more in the mould of UK institutions in its expectations
of its academics. By that, I mean that whether an individual elected to
pursue a Masters or a PhD was largely up to the individual. Universities
hired as teachers competent individuals sometimes directly out of their
Honours program, and perhaps hoped rather than required that these
individuals would go on to get higher degrees. In the last three years
have seen this changing with institutions requiring not just Masters
degrees but PhDs for entry level jobs. While this is not the case in all
disciplines, it is on the rise in most of the position advertisements
that I have seen recently.
All of these observations leave unaddressed quite a few matters of
concern. Other than job flexibility, why would one want a PhD? Should
PhD be an entry card to a teaching postion at the university level? (I
am less convinced of that than I once was, but not for the reasons one
might reasonably expect.)
What constitutes an original contribution to knowledge? Can we agree
quantitatively and qualitatively on an answer or on the many answers to
And while we're at it (here's the really offensive part), should we be
concerned that a PhD degree has become commodified in today's academic
climate? Is the contribution to knowledge a contribution or a due to be
paid to the union membership?
Respects to all,
School of Design
Curtin University of Technology