For context, I'm currently an I.T. bachelor's student who has an interest in mathematics and is planning for higher education in math. After doing some research online, I realised that a PhD isn't something you can tick off a checklist for your education and that I could do a master's before deciding whether or not I should go for a PhD.

  1. What's the difference between MAst and MSc?

    I noticed some universities don't offer an MSc and that Oxford/Cambridge offers an MAst degree, how do the two compare? There is also MPhil I came across which is leans towards the research side.

  2. If I chose MPhil but didn't go for a PhD, how far can I go with the degree?

    This of course means in the field of mathematics and not going back to a corporate IT job.

Or alternatively should I just keep math as a hobby and continue with a career in IT?

  • I assume this is about UK education. Correct?
    – Buffy
    Apr 30 at 17:37
  • 5
    I doubt that IT gives a good start for a graduate degree in math, actually.
    – Buffy
    Apr 30 at 17:38
  • @Buffy Yes, the question was related to UK education, I am aware of the difference and am learning math by myself with reference to the syllabus taught in a BSc degree over here in India
    – Henraemon
    May 1 at 11:08
  • This question could use more focus: "In my situation, what should I do?" is not something that this site can answer. But "What are the differences between these types of masters degree" is. On a personal note, remember to think about what your goals are beyond any degree. Why do you want to do it? Don't go into it just because it's another bit of education.
    – Flyto
    May 1 at 11:23

2 Answers 2

  1. The Maths Institute at Oxford doesn't offer MASt degrees and Cambridge doesn't give MSc's at all, they only seem to grant MASt's to external applicants who complete Part 3 of the Tripos without doing the rest of a Cambridge undergrad. At both of these universities these courses are taught Masters degrees.

They are the same in that they are taught programs, i.e., require a significant component of taking classes and passing exams. In my experience the precise letters after the M (Phil/Sc/ASt/etc.) don't really give great information at all about the content. You need to look at the details for each program instead.

The taught MSc's are nontrivial feeders into PhD work. As an anecdote: I got a taught MSc at Oxford, the program had a dissertation as a requirement in addition to taking courses, and I ended up with a DPhil offer there. Didn't manage to find the funding, so the PhD's from somewhere else.

  1. Their Masters by research programs like the MPhil have minimal taught components. That is to say that the only requirements are that you write a thesis, and you're not expected to take courses. I never met anyone doing these degrees or who has done one while I was there or since. They're so odd that Oxford's page for their version notes:

It is not intended as a first step towards a DPhil, but rather as an alternative to a DPhil. Few students opt to apply for the MSc by Research unless there are limitations on the time or funding available.

I simply can't recommend these types of degrees. In the US they're usually only given to students who start a PhD but don't finish all requirements for whatever reason.

If you don't have an undergraduate background in math or some equivalent experience I'm not sure that anywhere reputable would even take you on such a degree. But even if you do, suppose you finish a research masters. You've taken few advanced courses, and your main accomplishment is writing a "PhD lite" thesis over the course of 2 years.

A. If you decide not to continue on to a PhD, industry employers will be a lot less interested in a thesis than if you had just taken more advanced classes and built up a relevant skill set for their needs.

B. If you try to continue on to a PhD, in the best case you can't really extend your Masters thesis to accomplish that since it's already published. You're likely to have already sunk 2 years into the Masters and need to do another 3-4 on something different for a PhD.


I could do a master's before deciding whether or not I should go for a PhD.

If PhD is not a certainty for you, and you're at the fence of academia and industry, the MAst (M.A.S., MAS, Master of Advanced Studies) might be just right for you. Many institutions are projecting MAst as an offering focused on the needs of professionals rather than academics! For instance, UC San Diego 'advertise' it as a professional (terminal) degree!

Typically, MAst, is conceived/geared towards a post-graduate professional degree. It's not uncommon to go through series of a set of coordinated coursework carefully orchestrated in such a way to culminate to projects or papers rather than research treatise.

In Spain, there's the notion that MAst is offered as the "Diploma de Estudios Avanzados". Whether the DEA scale through as higher qualification that MPhil or MS is left to be seen in coming years.

If you're looking at the UK, apart from Cambridge, for mathematics, you also have Warwick.

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