Becky Emmerson began her Salford journey as a BSc (Hons) Zoology Clearing applicant – read her first blog here – and is now a Master of Research (MRes) student, exploring Mammalian Evolution around the KPg (Cretaceous-Paleogene) boundary. We caught up with Becky to find out more about her experience studying as a postgraduate research student at Salford…

A master’s course is one of the foundations of my future career, a stepping stone as I plan to go on to study for a PhD and into academia or research. I also chose my degree because I couldn’t find a taught master’s in the North West that I really liked, and I loved the idea of specialising in an area I want to make a career out of.

As an MRes is a research qualification, you tend to choose your own research topic and work with your supervisor to produce a thesis paper over two years which you then, typically, work on publishing. Mammalian evolution and palaeontology are both fascinating to me and I’ve really enjoyed learning and developing new skills as I go. I also have a great supervisor who is supportive and encourages me to work things out for myself, which I’ve found lets me deepen my understanding of topics.

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My favourite thing about being a postgraduate research student is the flexibility – I like being able to set my own schedule and work on my timetable as it allows me to work in the best ways for me. I work better in the evening, so I tend to schedule my hours to fit that, and my only scheduled sessions are meetings with my supervisor where I typically ask a million and one questions!

The main difference from undergraduate study is that you’re expected to take more initiative with independent study, and in research you are also expected to teach yourself a large proportion of the skills you may need. For example, I’m currently learning coding to help with the data analysis later in my project, which is something I’ve never done before!

I did find the transition of being very supported and advised as an undergraduate student to learning independently quite difficult at the start, but I’m used to this style of learning now. As a Master of Research student, I’ve also had the opportunity to take part in the online sessions and courses that are tailored to research students which have really helped me to develop my writing and research skills. One set of the sessions I found really useful was the writing workshops as they looked into writing at different stages of your thesis – the planning, research, drafting and final submission stages etc. – as, at the time, I didn’t realise they would be as different as they are.

If you choose a Master of Research, make sure you make the most of it! Build connections with multiple lecturers while studying as they can provide references and there might even be an opportunity to further your studies with them. If you get the chance to do some work with external companies or individuals, try to take it on as it will give you a wider range of experience when you complete your course. I’d also recommend trying out things like societies and sports teams if you didn’t as an undergraduate as this might be the last time you’re a full-time student with time to spare!

Find out more about postgraduate study with our range of postgraduate open days and talks.