It’s pretty normal to be asked as a PhD student where you did your Masters degree. I however didn’t do one, and this seems to come as a shock to most people (probably because a lot of the people asking are Master’s students), but no I didn’t do one. So how am I here in the presitgious Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester doing a PhD when I don’t have a Masters? The answer is a placement year during my undergraduate degree. I was inspired to write a little post about this by Karam in Computer Science’s post this week urging everyone to consider a year in industry. Leicester, like Bath, seems to be fairly encouraging on the placement front. At Bath those who opted not to do a placement were hugely outnumbered by those who did, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the opportunity.
Like Karam we had to apply for placements and I went through an application process and interview before being lucky enough to secure a placement at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in North London. I spent the 3rd year of my 4 year degree being paid to learn in a research lab. What more could a student need? I learnt lab skills that put theoretical knowledge into practice, at the end of the year had to produce a report and in 2013 (3 years after I finished at the NIMR) I also got my first publication – admittedly I’m 6th author but for something done during my undergrad degree I think this is a great start to my hopefully one day extensive publication record. My supervisor Kristine was wonderful and will still agree to be a reference for me now. My placement gave me confidence for my final year project when I returned to university and the experience of already having produced a large report meant that writing up seemed much less daunting. My time management skills were hugely improved and I successfully worked ~20hr a week part time while completing my final year and also finding the time for field and lab work.
So my placement helped me out in my final year, but it also meant I had a lot more skills to my name when I applied for jobs after Uni. I left Bath with a lab based job in place in Bristol, and later moved to Wessex Water (based in Bath) where I worked testing samples for pathogens while my boyfriend finished his MEng degree – he’s currently winning the degree battle with an Undergraduate Masters to my BSc, but I’m fighting back to add PhD to my list… (and I couldn’t do it without his support). My placement year allowed me to find lab based jobs which ultimately gave me the skills and experience to be accepted for a PhD without having done a Masters.
So you can do a PhD without a Masters, provided you have the experience required. I began my PhD with a lot to learn but confidence in the lab and already set in a working routine. While Masters students typically spend 6months in a research lab I had a full 12months under my belt already (+2 years in non-research labs) I felt ready (but of course scared) and I have no doubts that my choice to do a placement year has had a long term impact on my options.