Thinking about postgraduate study at university? Don’t know which option is best for the career you have in mind? Need advice on job hunting?
You’re about to or have just graduated and now considering your options. Do you look for a job now or would it better to do a postgraduate degree? This site will help you make informed decisions about what are your options are for those considering a career in statistics.
There is a wide range of postgraduate courses involving statistics. If you already know what course you wish to study – start your search now at:
Who is it for?
- If your undergraduate degree contained only a limited amount of statistics, then postgraduate study provides a way of gaining a full professional training
- Undergraduates wishing to study deeper into the subject to broaden their knowledge and skills
- Increase job prospects in the competitive job markets
- Required as part of a research based statistical career.
Types of postgraduate qualifications
Taught courses usually lead to a Master of Science (MSc) degree.
Programmes of research usually lead towards a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) qualification, although there are also research programmes that are shorter or less intensive that lead to a degree that is often called an MPhil.
These are designed for graduates who have already covered quite a lot of statistics in their undergraduate degrees, or perhaps gained a lot of professional experience in their work. Some of these courses cover statistics quite widely, while others specialise in particular areas such as medical statistics.
These are designed for graduates from other disciplines (but usually in scientific, mathematical or engineering areas) who wish to learn about statistics.
MSc courses usually last for one year of full-time study. Typically, the first eight or nine months are spent studying several units of taught material and the remainder of the year in preparing a dissertation. The taught material covers many aspects of theoretical and applied statistics. As well as formal lectures, there are tutorial classes and statistical computing workshops.
The dissertation is your own work, studying a particular area of the subject in depth. A member of staff acts as your supervisor and quite often is based on a real problem. Some universities require you to give a presentation based on it.
Part-time study often consists of attending the university for the taught material for one day per week for two years. The examinations are then taken, after which the dissertation is spread over several months (but usually with an upper time limit of about a year), during which you gradually develop the work and make visits to your supervisor from time to time to discuss progress.
Studying part-time is ideal for those in employment or have families to support. Many employers, especially in professional environments, will readily make arrangements for you to be away from your work for the one day each week when you need to attend lectures. But please be aware that you will still have your normal full-time job and will be expected to attend to your academic studies on top of this.
Other versions of part-time study are also available. You might be able to arrange to spread the degree over more than the usual period by taking only one or two of the units of taught material at a time, completing the programme over an extended number of years. Another variant is evening study; for example, Birkbeck College in London specialises in running MSc courses by evening study, and it has an MSc in Applied Statistics and Operational Research.
This is becoming increasingly popular. It obviously removes the need to attend a university – except perhaps for occasional tutorials, which might in any case be optional – and it means that you can plan your studies so as to fit in with requirements imposed by your employment or any other aspects of your life. You must, of course, be fully aware that studying in this way is rigorous and demanding.
Some university MSc courses have been formally accredited by the Royal Statistical Society. Among other things, this means that graduates from these courses are automatically eligible to apply for the Society’s professional qualification of Graduate Statistician. The list of accredited courses changes from year to year; the current list can be seen on the Society’s website. It should however be stressed that this accreditation is voluntary and there are also excellent MSc courses at other universities.
The demand for good PhD-trained statisticians in and outside academia and other scientific research establishments is high. You can find more in-depth information about PhD’s on the findaphd website.
In brief, a PhD usually involves:
- Research-led study
- Full-time study of at least three years, although it can be studied part time
- Work supervised by a course tutor (although independent research is encouraged)
- Work could form part of a team’s research project.
Several universities offer research programmes that are shorter and lead to a degree called an MPhil (MSc is also quite often used; this should not be confused with the situation of a taught course leading to the MSc degree, as described above). These programmes might involve an investigation of some of the tools of statistics, or could be application-based, perhaps involving the analysis of complex datasets. Such programmes are suitable for students who have a reasonable background in statistics and who want to learn research skills by pursuing a full-time project, but who do not want to commit themselves to the time and intensity of a three-year PhD programme.
How do I apply?
Unlike undergraduate courses which are done through UCAS, all postgraduate applications must be made directly to the university departments themselves. Simply contact the departments directly and ask for an application pack. When you return the forms, the departments will usually approach referees from your undergraduate course, particularly if your degree has not yet been awarded because you are still in the final year. You may be invited to visit the department. This is an excellent opportunity to find out in detail what is likely to be involved.
Where can I search for PhD courses?
If you are currently at a university, talk to the statistics staff there about postgraduate courses. They can help you identify a number of universities which are likely to offer research opportunities suited to you. Obtain information and prospectus’s from the university’s web site. Visit universities to find out what courses or research programmes are like and the people you could be working with.
To start you off on your search, here are some useful websites:
All applicants need a very good command of written and spoken English. Students whose first language is not English require a minimum score of IELTS 6.5 or TOEFL 570 (paper-based) or 230 (computer-based).
The entrance requirements are normally at least a second class honours degree in mathematics, computer science, or a mathematically related discipline, or an equivalent overseas qualification in a mathematical subject. If the course is an extension, your undergraduate degree will need to be in a mathematically related discipline.
Conversion courses are designed for people whose undergraduate degrees did not contain much mathematics or statistics. If your undergraduate degree contained little or no statistics, you might need to take extra units at or before the start of the MSc to bring you ‘up to speed’. All this can be discussed with your course director/admissions tutor to help you get the best from the course, and will be happy to answer any questions you have.
You would be expected to have a first or upper second class honours degree (or an equivalent overseas qualification) in a mathematical subject. In some research areas a background in physics, engineering or computer science is also acceptable. For PhD research programmes, it is not necessary to have an MSc degree (or an MPhil degree) first.
There are Graduate Training Programmes available which provides subsidised places on intensive residential courses aimed at first and second year PhD students. The courses are there to help strengthen participants’ theoretical understanding. Information on Graduate Training Programmes are offered by some universities through their own website.
For MPhil, you will be expected to have studied a substantial amount of statistics already within your undergraduate degree.
For mature students, universities often welcome such students because of their commitment and enthusiasm. If you are in this position, do not hesitate to contact universities that appear to be of interest and see if they can help.
Our list of Job Profiles can help you give you an idea of the kind of jobs available. Begin to look for job opportunities during your final year. Use the university’s careers service. Consider joining the Royal Statistical Society as a student member; this costs very little (free to final year students on accredited courses) and keep an eye on its jobs board.
Full-time PhD and MSc students may be interested in becoming a full fellow member under the student concession rates. You will get the Society’s journal as well as the bimonthly RSS NEWS. Part-time students are always welcome as fellows at the usual subscription rate, as indeed are all people with an interest in our subject.
There is enormous demand for people with postgraduate qualifications in statistics. MSc degrees are highly marketable throughout industry, business and commerce. For example, there are very many opportunities in medical statistics, in medical research organisations and in the pharmaceutical industry in general. PhD students are also in great demand across the board. A PhD would in particular usually be necessary to pursue a career in university teaching and research. However, PhD students are also often snapped up by other organisations such as, just as examples, banks and financial institutions.
For postgraduate specific jobs, these websites may help: