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UK taught MA programs vs. MA in the USA
Hello everyone,

I'm an American living and working in the UK at the moment currently applying to MA programs around the country (two acceptance letters so far at fantastic UK programs, I am very excited). I did my undergraduate back in the US before the move. I have a few questions for those of you have completed a taught MA here in Britain. Or just some food for thought if anyone wants to compare UK archaeology to the USA.

While I am very familiar with the programs, work of professors, and courses at the schools I've been accepted to, I am just little confused as to how things work out for the typical MA/PhD track student in this country. In the states a typical archaeology student will do an MA through a three to four year course where they are expected to basically research their own site from start to finish (often with other MA or PhD students), and see it through excavation and all post-exc. lab work, reports, etc. A PhD will be at least five years (and I would imagine not unlike a PhD in the UK).

I find it strange to think a one year taught MA program would involve this much in depth research, although I am expecting it to some degree. A MSc I expect to be more like an American MA, although an MA in the US would still require about four courses each semester, whereas MSc in the UK seems to require no taught modules. So, how far does a taught MA go in getting a student into doing "real" hands on archaeology? The confusing bit is that I would expect any UK PhD program to only accept candidates who have full working knowledge and experience with hosting their own research start to finish. If this isn't included to some degree in a taught MA, when do they hammer the basics into you? I've gained all my experience through doing field schools and volunteer work. I've worked at all stages of the process but at different times, so I am concerned about having all my skills unified to a point where I can manage a site independently.

With that said, I am very excited to have experience with archaeology in both countries, and have the opportunity to study here.

What do you think? Or if you have any thoughts, rants, or raves about UK vs US archaeology in general I'd love to get that kind of a conversation going too.
I have done the taught MA and am currently working on a research degree here. I also did my undergrad in the states so I am in a similar boat. I did some recent research were I looked at the roughly 100 PhD archaeology programs in the states and this is what I have found to be the real differences. Typically, at least, what American school websites say- an MA is about 1.5-2 years in the states. This differs from school to school with some saying you will complete in x time while others are more laid back.

Also most programs allow for a MA without a thesis option so in many cases someone could get their MA without any field work (I know a lot). This is practically that same as a taught degree here as it is roughly three semesters fall, spring, summer(dissertation write-up). For those programs that say get a masters in 1.5 years in the US pretty much the same thing fall, spring, fall.

So really a taught MA is roughly what a MA is in the states- you can do field work for it, I did, but you dont have to.

The real difference comes in the PhD. In the states you would spend the exact same time as an MA in classes 1.5-2 yrs. then spend the next three in research. Most pick up an MA along the way.

In the UK its three years for PhD- 1 in which you get an Mphil (practically useless) 2 turning you research into a PhD. in this option you do not take any classes at all. so unless you did an taught MA you basically skip classes and go straight to research.

Other then these differences its pretty much the same- not everyone here or in the US follows the schedule exactly and the supposed 3 yr PhD here actually takes 5-6 in many cases

As for the whole MSc. I am not sure what you are referring to chances are it depends on how those universities label degrees. For example all of Edinburgh does an MSc but it is exactly the same requirements as an MA at Newcastle or anywhere else.

There are a few exceptions I think UCL has a two year course for one of its masters.

As for comparison plenty of people with UK degrees teach at american schools so quality is not bad. Though a lot of Americans look down on the UK MA because they think its only one year even though it is 3 semesters like at least half of the PhD schools in the US.

On the point that PhD programs should only accept someone with experience NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH most, not all, are looking for academics and hands on training is an after thought because University archaeology is about publishing "theory" not practical work. I know lots of PhD students with only a field school

Now before anyone jumps on me over this YES lots of good archaeologists work in universities and make amazing field archaeologists but I would say there are a lot more archaeologists with very limited field exp. in academia- for better or worse
That's a considerable amount of info to digest! I'll start by saying I did my undergraduate degree in the states, skipped the MA and moved directly onto a Phd (in the UK, been here since 1998, curse or a blessing, time will tell *laughs*). My own personal opinion mind you and specific to my aims at the time, but I didn't see the point of doing an MA. A few years back, the Phd programs in the UK underwent a bit of a change. I think the norm is now 3 years to complete. There are a whole host of things to consider, where to start! I'll have to get back to you.
A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.
top answers - thanks
Doug and Moreno - thank you so much for your detail in clarification.

I mean a Research Masters when I said MSc. I've been in the middle of putting together an Edinburgh app this week so my mind was in Scotland while I was writing out my post. The MRes programs don't seem to require any modules too often (of course depending on the program) and thats what I was getting at.

I was basing all of my knowledge of US Master's programs based on friend's experiences doing Masters programs for Brown and UMass Boston, where they were in classes for at least 3 years and were taught field skills alongside their thesis. It had never occurred to me that some people do in fact do MA's in America without fieldwork (seems kind of gaff to me to be honest). I had been advised by professors back where I did my undergrad against doing an MA in the UK altogether, for the very reason you just stated. They claimed it would hurt my chances of going on to a PhD program should I choose to do so in America. I don't know how much I believe this though because of how many British archaeologists I've encountered as students at all levels of study in the states, and at how many British professors I had and encountered. It seems like the flow between our countries is decent. The reason I posed the question of US v UK archaeology in general alongside all of this is because as an undergrad we learned that somehow archaeology as a practice in the UK was radically different from that of the US. After being here in the UK, reading more British arch. lit. than American, and from watching Time Team }Smile I am beginning to think the only difference is where Americans place archaeology as a discipline. Those who stressed differences might have blown it out of proportion.

Anyway, basically what I am looking for in an MA program is theory alongside fieldwork. I really do love both. Like I said, I've done fieldwork but not at a level where my presence mattered at the site. I don't want to go all the way through academia without the practical skill, which is where my concern about the taught MA came in. At what point are skills typically taught in the UK (I understand it might vary depending on the school)? Also, is it typical for someone who is PHd track to do a taught MA, then a MRes, then PhD? Or am I safe to go from MA to Phd as long as my research objective is clear and plausible, etc. Are you doing a MRes or a PhD?

Jeez so many questions, sorry about that. I'm new here :face-approve:
First an MA does not hurt your chances of getting into a PhD in the states. had two of my classmates from my MA apply and get into MN (full funding) and Syracuse (not sure on the funding) no problem. together we went 4 for 4 in getting accepted to PhD programs. this was out of newcastle too not exactly as well known as cam, ox, ucl.

second most PhD students audit classes to pick up the skills they need. so its not like your left out in the dark. also there are field schools you can participate in- its were everyone first learns. also during the summer months you can shovel bum it- make some money too- sort of.

Usually the first year of your PhD you sit down with your advisor and make a game plan. If there are skills you would like to learn then they will set it up so you can tale classes or go to workshops or volunteer.

you mentioned Edinburgh- join the Edinburgh field society. most of the people in it don't have degrees but man their arch. is top notch. During the summer they have a dig/survey almost every other weekend. you can learn geophysics, aerial/kit photographs, of course excavation. some pretty cool sites too- they dug the knights templer castle last sept. a few summers of work with them and you'll be a better archaeologists then any prof.

really you can learn a lot in classes but until you put it into practice you really havn't learned it.
Also many people do taught MA then PhD- not sure on the numbers but it seems like close to 2/3 of archs do this. you find very few people doing the Mphil-PhD track. there are some though. you said Edinburgh- there if you have an MA you skip the MPhil and go straight into a PhD. PhD is still 3 years (they want their money) but you dont have to turn in a 30,000 word thesis after the first year. I am not sure how it is at other schools but it seems for the most part if you have one masters rarly do you do another- still have to spend the time though.
Yea the time is fine. I'm excited to do it. Thanks for clearing that up for me. Thanks for those tips about Edinburgh as well. Decisions, decisions all these programs are incredibly appealing. Did you attend / are you at Edinburgh? If so, I might be picking your brain a little more...
Yes, I attend Edinburgh among other things. Apply for scholarships soon. deadline is Feb. 1st but you probably already knew that.

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