Postgraduate study provides a world of opportunity and courses to choose from, although being able to discover which degrees align with your aspirations and background can be a challenge. We’ve taken the options on offer and simplified them down to these key differences.
Both postgraduate coursework and research degrees offer you the opportunity to pursue a passion, but how would you like to do it? Is it by answering a big question and delving deep into your curiosity, not knowing what the answer may be when you start off? Or would you like a more structured path that can allow for flexibility yet covers off key objectives and learning areas to advance your career? Broadly speaking, postgraduate coursework takes on a similar format to undergraduate study with lectures, tutorials, assignments and exams. A postgraduate research degree however will involve preparing a substantial piece of work, typically a thesis, that represents a particular interest in a specific field.
There are many postgraduate degrees that offer a pathway to professional accreditation and for most you can enter from any background, regardless of the discipline of your undergraduate degree. These degrees allow you to practise and are offered in areas such as accounting, law, teaching, nursing, medicine, social work, dentistry or a health science profession such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy or speech pathology. Most of these degrees are offered on campus and have an internship or clinical placement component, although some may offer part-time options.
Many postgraduate coursework degrees offer industry knowledge and/or training as a stepping stone to a career within an industry, career development or career change. Credentialing degrees are ideal if you’d like to build knowledge within a different sector either new or aligned to your current educational or professional background.
For example, you may be someone who is already in the workforce and looking to get a foothold in a particular industry such as banking or finance – choosing a specialisation of the Master of Commerce would be ideal. Perhaps you might work in a multinational company and would like to obtain a formal qualification in international relations to reinforce your experience. Or you might have just graduated from your bachelor’s degree and want an add on a qualification that will give you the requisite training to initially enter public health as a career. Many of these degrees offer graduate certificate and graduate diploma options as shorter qualifications or pathways into the master’s degree.
Different to credentialing degrees, some postgraduate coursework degrees are designed to take you further in your chosen field. They typically build on your expertise and are closely related to what you studied at an undergraduate level or your work experience. For example, the Master of Marketing requires applicants to have sufficient work experience. Other degrees in this area include the Master of Data Science, Master of Surgery, and Master of Engineering.
Some people are drawn to a research degree because they are highly independent learners and would like to develop their own path rather than follow a prescribed study of coursework. Some came across a specific question during their previous study and want to undertake significant research to find the answer. Others have a passion for a particular area they want to explore.
As a research student you will prepare a substantial piece of work that represents a particular interest in a specific field. You will need to research and write up a thesis of some type.
Research candidates are trained in general research methodology to gain general transferable research skills. Previously this lead mainly to academic careers but increasingly industry have come to realise the applicable skills that research graduates have. For example we are increasingly seeing the uptake of our maths, science and physics PhD graduates into the private banking and finance industry, whilst public sector institutions such as government and state libraries have a longstanding respect for research degrees.
You will need some research experience to undertake a postgraduate research degree. The standard way to enter a Doctor of Philosophy (Phd) or Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is via an undergraduate degree with honours although increasingly people are coming in through the master’s route.