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The nature of research at Master's level

Masters’ degrees introduce students to research at the frontiers of knowledge and analysis, and train them in relevant techniques appropriate to the discipline and the objectives of the programme.

Depending upon the degree concerned, the structure of a research Master’s programme at the University of Otago may involve:-

  • a period of research and the submission of a thesis (Master’s degree by thesis only); or
  • the successful completion of prescribed papers followed by a period of research and the submission of a thesis (Master’s degree by papers and thesis)

A Master’s degree “qualifies graduates who apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for research, a pathway for further learning, professional practice and/or scholarship” (Committee on University Academic Programmes (CUAP) Handbook 2019, p. 31). As noted by CUAP, there are three principal ways Master’s degrees can be structured:

  1. By thesis or primarily by thesis, in which the thesis is worth at least 90 credits (0.75 EFTS).
  2. By coursework and thesis, in which the thesis is worth at least 90 credits (0.75 EFTS) and there may be up to 150 credits (1.25 EFTS) of coursework.
  3. By coursework only.

At the University of Otago, a Master’s thesis normally comprises at least 12 months full-time academic study (or equivalent) accounting for at least 50% of the final result. The thesis should normally be limited to 40,000 words of text, excluding appendices, footnotes and bibliographies.

As noted by CUAP (2019, pp. 32-33), a person with a Master’s degree is able to:

  • show evidence of advanced knowledge about a specialist field of enquiry or professional practice
  • demonstrate mastery of sophisticated theoretical subject matter
  • evaluate critically the findings and discussions in the literature
  • research, analyse and argue from evidence
  • work independently and apply knowledge to new situations
  • engage in rigorous intellectual analysis, criticism and problem-solving.

If a Master’s degree includes a component of supervised research of not fewer than 40 credits (0.33 EFTS), the graduate is also able to:

  • demonstrate a high order of skill in the planning, execution and completion of piece of original research, and
  • apply research skills learned during the study programme to new situations.