What is it like to study at Birkbeck?
Your learning experience at Birkbeck will depend on whether you choose to pursue a Master's degree or carry out doctoral research.
Nearly all of our postgraduate teaching takes place in the evening, making us unique among most UK universities and giving our students unrivalled opportunities to make the most of daytime work experience opportunities.
How long do Master's courses take to complete?
- All of our full-time Master's degrees take one full calendar year (12 months) to complete.
When do Master's courses start?
- All of our taught postgraduate courses start in October. It is not possible to start a postgraduate degree part way through the academic year. For more information please refer to our term dates.
When do classes take place?
- For most Master's degrees you will attend lectures and seminars in the early evening (between 6pm and 9pm).
- How many classes you attend a week will depend on your programme of study – it varies between two to four evenings a week.
How many hours will I be studying a week?
- We estimate that most Master’s students will undertake at least 30 hours of study per week.
- How many classes you attend a week will depend on your programme of study – it varies between two to four evenings a week, starting at 6pm and finishing no later than 9pm.
- As well as evening lectures, you will also need to do independent study, research and complete assignments.
How is the academic year structured?
- Lectures, seminars and tutorials are mostly given in the first two terms, and assignments have to be submitted during this time.
- The majority of Master's programmes also require students to do examinations, which take place in May/June, and then students must do an independent project that must be completed by September.
How many people are in each class?
- Class sizes will vary depending on the subject you are studying.
- Attendance on optional modules is likely to be smaller than attendance on core modules, where you may be studying with people doing other Master’s programmes in your department.
- Attending the larger core module classes will allow you to meet students on a wider range of programmes.
How are classes taught?
- All of our teaching methods are designed to meet the particular needs and circumstances of our students.
- Classroom teaching methods include:
- Formal lectures: these give an overview of a particular field of study and aim to provide the stimulus and the starting point for deeper exploration of the subject during your own personal reading. In science subjects, for example, a formal lecture may be followed directly by a practical laboratory session on a related topic.
- Discussion classes and seminars: these give you the chance to study a selected aspect of your subject in depth and to exchange ideas with fellow students. These discussions typically require preparatory study.
- Active learning methods: these enable you to develop transferable skills – the general capabilities that help people to succeed in a variety of jobs and situations, such as communication and presentation skills, report writing and critical thinking.
- Increasingly we are using active learning methods, such as individual and group projects, problem-solving exercises and case studies.
How are students assessed?
- Students are typically assessed through written exams, coursework and a project report or dissertation, although methods of assessment vary from course to course (see our online course listings for details).
- You can check the likely number of examinations and their approximate dates with your School at the beginning of each year. Find out more about exams and assessment of master's degrees.
Our PhD students are part of a large community of highly active researchers. Research students have the flexibility to set their own study timetable in agreement with their supervisor(s).
What is the start date for research degrees?
- You can apply, and start studying, at any time of year.
- Most students typically start in October, January or April, depending on the availability of their appointed research supervisor.
- Please note that the New Route PhD programmes have a fixed start date of October.
- If you are applying for specific types of funding, your start date would typically be decided once you know the outcome of your funding application.
How long does it take to complete an MPhil/PhD
- The minimum time for study for a full-time PhD and MPhil is two full calendar years for full-time students and three years for part-time students.
- There is no maximum time for study specified by the University of London, but the College Code of Practice stipulates four years as the maximum period for completion for full-time students and seven years for part-time students.
- Those who take longer are considered on a case-by-case basis, according to the College Code of Practice.
How do I find a MPhil/PhD supervisor?
- This is the most important part of applying for a research degree, as our procedures require that a member of our academic staff has the experience, knowledge and expertise to supervise your topic.
- You should therefore first check our staff research interests to see any of them list an area related to your area of study.
Why do I first register for an MPhil when I intend to complete a PhD?
- Most research applicants are registered for a University of London MPhil in the first instance and upgrade to a PhD at the end of their first year.
- At the end of your first year, you will be expected to make a progress report to your supervisor and possibly other members of your research group.
- Your supervisor will then begin to assess your suitability for transfer from MPhil to PhD registration. Transfer to University of London PhD registration is normally considered only after this formal review of progress and assessment of work or results.
What are the supervision/study hours?
- Supervision hours are usually arranged at times that are mutually convenient for you and your supervisor – this is typically during office hours (between 10am and 6pm).
- Research students have flexibility to decide when they wish to carry out their research, whether by day, by evening, or both.
- Some schools offer a structured research programme incorporating compulsory lectures and seminars, which usually take place in the afternoon.
How will my work be assessed?
- If there is a taught element to your programme, it will be formally assessed by coursework or examinations, before you fully engage with your research project.
- Many students work independently from the very beginning. If you choose to do this, you will have the support of a personal supervisor from the start of your enrolment to help guide you through the different stages of your research.
- The MPhil requires completion of a thesis, which either records original research work or offers an ordered critique of existing knowledge.
- The PhD thesis must offer a distinct contribution to knowledge in the subject area. It must show originality and is generally longer than an MPhil thesis. Find out more about the assessment requirements for MPhil/PhD degrees.
What kind of support will I get from my supervisor?
- In your first year, you can expect guidance on literature and source surveys or on the design of experiments. You may also be advised to attend postgraduate seminars in related subject areas.
- When you progress to PhD, your supervisor will read your chapters as you produce them, and help prepare you for any oral examinations. You will also be asked to provide annual reports on your progress, as will your supervisor.