Most masters courses are taught in modules, and last one year full-time. Some last two years. Flexible part-time options are available at some institutions. A masters course can allow you to extend your knowledge of specific area of interest, or to explore new topics unrelated to your first degree.
The masters degrees you will most commonly come across are:
MA – generally arts, social sciences or business
MSt - generally arts, social sciences or business, common at Oxford
MSc – science and technology disciplines (MS in the USA)
MRes – research techniques, often as a precursor to a PhD/DPhil programme
MBA – management and business, usually after a few years of business experience
MPhil – includes a substantial piece of individual research
Subject-specific degree titles such as MEd, MEng
Some postgraduate courses lead directly to a professional qualification required for entry into a particular career. Examples include the PGCE or PGDE for teaching and the GDL for law. However, there are a whole series of other further study options which could be classified as vocational, ranging from six-week courses in computer skills through to the PhD or DPhil in Clinical Psychology, necessary to work as a Clinical Psychologist.
A PhD (known as a DPhil in Oxford) usually requires three or more years' full-time research, involving in-depth study of a specific field, the results of which are presented as a thesis of 50,000+ words. In some countries, including the USA, doctoral students begin their course with a programme of taught modules before beginning doctoral research in year 2 or 3, making the overall length of a PhD much longer than the 3-4 year average in the UK. Examples of typical PhD lengths in countries often applied to by Oxford students: UK 3-4 years, USA 5-7 years, Canada 4-5 years, France & Germany 3-4 years (post-masters), Netherlands 4 years (post-masters).
Most PhD students join an existing research group in a university department under the guidance of one or more supervisors. In the UK there are a growing number of Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs, also known as Doctoral Training Programmes DTPs) funded by UK research councils and offering four year programmes with a focus on interdisciplinary topics and formal training in research methods.
Many taught masters courses contain an element of research via an extended dissertation on a specific topic. Research masters courses offering training in research methods and the opportunity to explore a topic in depth are also available at some institutions. The most common of these degree titles are MRes and MPhil, and these are often seen as a precursor to more extended doctoral level research.