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Is this generally expected? It seems to me that most people develop something in their MPhil and then continue working on this field for the PhD. What would I do if I had a change of interest, and work on sub-field A for the MPhil, but then want to do subfield B for my PhD. Is this generally o.k. ?

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  • No UK experience here, but I would hope so. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 2:20

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Based on my experience as an MPhil student and PhD applicant, I would say there is no requirement for the PhD research to be related to the MPhil research. What you are probably seeing amongst current or past PhD students is that the topics were related not for any official requirement but because:

  1. If someone was interested in a topic for their MPhil then it is quite likely that they were still interested in it for a PhD.

  2. During their MPhil research, they built a rapport with their supervisor (and co-workers) and this made it easier to discuss possible topics for a PhD.

  3. Working on a topic for their MPhil made it relatively easy to write a sensible research proposal for something in that area. Writing a proposal for something that they were interested in, but don't have a solid background for, would have been more challenging.

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It will depend on the field you are in. In some subjects (typically sciences) students will pursue a project that is defined by their supervisor. In this case it is not uncommon (based on my experience in physics) for people to look at one sub-field in their masters and then move to another for their PhD. In this case, prospective supervisors/departments will be more interested in the general ability of the student rather than any domain specific knowledge. People will often stay in the same similar field though, simply because that is what interests them.

The alternative, that is dominant in e.g. the social sciences, is that the student proposes the PhD project themselves. In this case, as Mark Wassell says, there is a greater incentive to stay within a subfield as it is then easier to write a good proposal.

Based on the fact that you are currently studying for a MPhil, rather than one of the four year undergrad masters that are common in the sciences, I would guess you are likely to be in the second situation - but hopefully this answer might be helpful for people who stumble across this question.

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