I'm a BA(Hons) Sociology graduate with a 2:1 in my degree. I applied to some PhD programs in the US but was rejected with no reason provided but it was likely due to a lack of research experience outside of the BA degree, so I was wondering whether a taught MSc or an MRes would be more beneficial for my applications in the next PhD cycle in the US. I know US PhDs are more favourable for academic positions in the US but take longer due to completing masters in the process of obtaining the PhD. Will an MRes shorten the time for a PhD in the US or would it just provide me with the research experience I am lacking. My goal is to work over there after a PhD so completing a PhD in the US would be more beneficial for the future.

  • Actually it was probably not due to a lack of research experience. Few beginning doctoral students have any real research behind them due to the nature of the undergraduate program here. A masters wouldn't be required for entry into a doctoral program. A masters would only shorten the time if it gives you the needed background for the (usually) required qualifying exams. See the canonical: academia.stackexchange.com/a/176909/75368
    – Buffy
    Feb 2 at 21:17
  • I was applying to clinical psychology and I'm guessing it's also due to the fact that the PhD programs are more difficult to get into than MD and law programs also didn't help my case
    – Jamess
    Feb 2 at 21:50
  • Note that letters are very important here. And medical programs may have very limited enrollments and a bias toward US citizens. (Not positive about all, but true of some, at least.)
    – Buffy
    Feb 2 at 21:52
  • Regarding LORs, I had a glowing letter from a professional at a private university in Ohio that I attended during a study abroad and 2 others from professors from my university, one being the head of department and another from a lecturer who is an expert within the field of substance use so I doubt it was for my letters but I could be wrong.
    – Jamess
    Feb 2 at 22:29
  • 4
    @Buffy I'd be careful about speaking outside your field. In my field, neuroscience, which for some people overlaps closely with clinical psychology, I'd bet every successful PhD applicant has undergraduate research experience. There are too many undergraduates with research experience to even bother starting to evaluate the ones that do not. This has changed substantially even in the last 20 years.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 2 at 22:33

1 Answer 1


Research experience is likely the most important thing holding you back; the title of a degree you enroll in or earn is not going to matter as much, the research experience you obtain will. If your goal is enrolling in a US PhD program, do whatever masters program will give you the best chance to be involved in research. You'll want to be able to talk about projects you've been involved in and your role. You do not necessarily need to have published papers, but you'll probably be behind if you don't have some at least at some stage of progress or with preliminary work that's been presented at conferences. You're in a fairly collaborative discipline, so it's okay if your projects are not yours alone. You'll be expected to work in a team but you should also get comfortable speaking on behalf of that team about your work from beginning to end, whether or not you're actually involved at all stages. I'd consider it a plus if you have experience with both the conduct and also design of research; it may be impossible to do both in your short time as a masters student but it's okay to participate in more than one project at different stages of development.

Completing an extra degree will likely not affect the duration of your PhD degree in the US in your field. Although people talk about US PhD degrees being a "masters plus PhD", it's not quite broken down that way. It's not as if you will spend exactly two years doing classes and then three+ years doing research, you'll start research right away and classes right away, and the classes will dwindle as you get towards the end. Having taken some similar classes before may let you skip some classes if your program approves, otherwise it'll just make those classes a little easier for you or let you take additional ones to broaden your base. Perhaps it'll make you marginally less likely to take longer than expected. You'll still be expected to spend a full 5-ish years on a research project.

All this is assuming you're aiming for a PhD program with a heavy research emphasis. Clinical psychology is a bit of an outlier as a PhD degree in that sometimes it is purely clinically focused on therapy and research is only an afterthought, more like a doctorate in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, etc. I'm only vaguely familiar with the field so I can't offer much more than a suggestion to research programs and their expectations carefully before you apply.

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