How is a research degree different?
Students undertaking a research degree will come from a variety of educational, training and employment backgrounds. While the majority of undergraduate students may have started their studies shortly after school, students undertaking a research degree may come from industry, clinical practice or employment or straight from an undergraduate or Master’s degree.
Undertaking a research degree is part of a training, professional and personal development process, which will be life-long. There will be little or no set timetable of lectures and there are no formal term dates. Research degrees can start at any time of the academic year, although the majority of Imperial students tend to commence their studies in October. You will acquire a high degree of self-management which will be required for you to succeed in managing your day, your research, your degree and its requirements.
Perhaps for the first time, you will be given the opportunity to explore a subject or problem that has not been explored before. This does not mean that you are on your own, but that you are embedded into local and even global community of like-minded people, who work in a similar area or have a common interest.
Your supervisor will have a good overview of the field and, based on their experience, know where the challenges and opportunities of your project are. Your supervisor's advice and direction are therefore important, especially at the initial stages.
A research degree has an exciting scope for collaborations and working as a team and as such, learning or enhancing your communication and people management skills. It is highly creative and can be more unpredictable than an undergraduate degree. A research degree is not simply about collecting results or data but also querying these and discussing them with others. Learning is continuous and poor experimental results can form part of research learning and success. Unlike a typical classroom experience of an undergraduate degree, a research degree will empower you to drive your own learning experience and expand your knowledge in a variety of ways.
A research degree is a very individual experience, more so than an undergraduate degree. While the overarching structure will be identical or similar across the university, individual research projects, research interactions and assessment interactions will differ. This environment can provide a rich learning experience for student cohorts discussing their experiences.
Finally, a research degree involves becoming increasingly independent in your approach to the research topic, to the research tasks, experimental design, presentation preparation and writing of manuscripts. By the end of your research degree, you are expected to be a world expert in your field, even if that field is a narrow one.