Topic ID #23848 - posted 10/12/2012 3:07 PM

1 yr Masters UK degrees - What are your thoughts



thetraveller

Hello.

As a North American, the 1 year Masters degree in Archaeology has always been of interest to me. I've noticed that there are many on this forum that have these degrees and I would like to know either from personal experience or if you simply have an opinion about these degrees - how useful in terms of employment have they been upon coming back to North America. 

It would be great to get an idea of the different opinions from both experienced to new archaeology professionals and students. In my experience, many promising students venture to the UK to very prestigious schools (paying a lot of money) but end up back to square one at home in North America with no teaching experience or even much technical CRM experience. That is a lot of debt for a under 25 year to have with no stable source of income. 

What do you think? If you've completed a UK degree and come back home, how have your credentials been received? What are things students should look out for. One can easily become a cash cow to these institutions as most international MPhils are not funded.

In starting this thread, I have not been very clear, but I hope that you will add in your thoughts to help build a robust discussion.

Thank you.






Post ID#19797 - replied 10/12/2012 4:50 PM



DougRM

I have done one of those one yr masters. Here is some of my thoughts and experiences

Employment- the majority of the US people who went to my MA programme (program) had not done archaeology undergrad and did not pursue it as a career afterwards. One of my classmates came back to the US got a CRM job and two years later now has permanent position. So the degree did not hurt her (she was also willing to travel)

MA for checking boxes- so if you need the MA to fulfill some permitting requirement (state, federal) you have to spend an extra $2-300 to get your degree accredited. The US is good about approving UK degrees (US government student loans can be taken out for UK universities and many departments and Universities are accredited by US accreditation groups but not usually archaeology programs)

Cost- well you have to take 1 year vs. 2-3. Fees are capped in the UK so any university is going to be around 10-12k GBP which is about $16,000-20,000. So about 8-10k or 5-6k a year. About the cost of your average public university in the states. Remember there is very little funding for MAs in the US or UK.

Quality of education- has very little to do with the teaching staff and almost everything to do with the student. You work hard, you can learn as much in 1yr as 3yr.

CRM experience- except for a few schools most give your classic archaeology degree e.g. very little practical experience. That counts for both US and UK.

In my personal opinion, where you do your masters matters very little, with a few extreme exceptions both bad and good. 

Post ID#19799 - replied 10/15/2012 5:15 AM



mollysews

I was wondering this same things. I've done at a lot of work as an undergrad studying archaeological materials using x-ray fluorescence and x-ray diffraction. I'm looking into pursuing the technical aspects of archaeological materials science, but many grad programs in the US don't explicitly specialize in this. My professor recommended I look into some programs in the UK, but I have heard that degrees from the UK are sometimes seen as less credible. Is that true? Is it worth it to go abroad to study exactly what I want?

Post ID#19800 - replied 10/15/2012 8:43 AM



MATrickett

I was actually going to put much of this information up in the other thread on distance learning, but it seemed more relevant here.  Full disclosure, as it were--while I live and work in the US as a research archaeologist on the east coast and have taught in an American university, my education has all been in the UK.  In short, take with a pinch of salt and fact check since my experiences are just that: mine.

How useful in terms of employment have they been upon coming back to North America. 

There are some differences between the UK Masters program and those of the US, with the differences often misunderstood in both directions.  As far as I have been able to tell, the principle advantages of a US-based Masters is: 1) regional and/or appropriate period specialism; 2) the possibility of acquiring teaching experience; and 3) the possibility, real or imagined, of trans-Atlantic bias between the credibility of the degrees.

In terms of format, UK taught Masters programs have a class-based component for 8-9 months of the year, following which you have 3-4 months to research, experiment, write, and submit your dissertation (UK and US reverse the application of "thesis" and "dissertation").  Distance learning courses are generally part-time, thus double those periods.  No GRE scores are required, and acceptance is generally based upon prior academic performance (i.e., a very rough 3.2-3.8 is required--it's spotty converting UK degree results into US GPA, and even the accreditation organisations tend to get it a tad wrong).

Oh, and big point.  If you do a UK-based degree program, this scoring process is significant.  The number of American students that have read for a UK degree and then nearly committed seppuku when they get a result back of 68% (a 2:1, or pass at Masters level).  Check out the grading criteria before pulling out the sharpening stone.

US programs, on the other hand, have the 1-year taught component which may or may not include teaching experience.  I say "may or may not" since I've met students whose Teaching Assistantship comprised of nothing more than data entry and office work.  Once your taught component is complete you than can formulate, research, experiment, write, and submit your thesis.  On average this seems to take a year (hence the 2-year degree) but can take less time... or more time.  There are, of course, variations to this.

There are variations to this.  Most UK-based Masters programmes do not require one to defend their dissertation, whereas US institutions commonly do (fact check this one).  There are also differences in the doctoral programs as well, e.g., UK-based Ph.D.s are geared towards 3-4 years pure research and you come out with no teaching experience (unless you're lucky), while the US-based ones are 5-6 years but at the 1-2 year you acquire a shiny Masters degree as part and parcel of the process.  (Funding also introduces even more differences, but that's going way beyond your question.)

In terms of academic development, other than the time taken to do so there is very little difference between the degrees.  The rub is in the perceived difference if one disregards for the moment any additional requirements for regional, artefactual, or methodological specialty.  And that is something that I've run into on both sides of The Pond.
In my experience, many promising students venture to the UK to very prestigious schools (paying a lot of money) but end up back to square one at home in North America with no teaching experience or even much technical CRM experience.

There are a number of issues here that I shall try and address.
  • Prestigious Schools.  Unless you have a real reason to do so, pay no attention to the concept of "prestigious schools."  Research the school that you want to go to and see if it has the course and people that support your interests.  UCL is the top-ranking university in England for Archaeology, but I wouldn't touch it (based upon my last look) for Conflict Archaeology.  The University of Bradford is not particularly highly-rated, but they've got some fantastic people working there in isotope biogeochemistry and archaelogical science in general.  And so forth.
  • Teaching Experience.  Don't expect to get this on a UK graduate program, with any such experience being the exception rather than the rule.
  • CRM Experience.  It is possible get archaeological experience in the UK, especially if you've had prior experience in the US, but it's generally hard even for UK students to get experience without sufficient prior experience (even as a graduate).  I know from a recent bout of hiring that many MA and even Ph.D. graduates were turned away because they just didn't have enough relevant experience.  In short, get the experience first and keep fresh.  Just having an MA or MS appears to be insufficient in the modern work force (and that's a US-based or UK-based one).
That is a lot of debt for a under 25 year to have with no stable source of income. 

As noted up-thread, the same situation applies somewhat in the US (just without any real or imagined bias against UK-based graduate degrees).  As noted by DougRM, UK-based fee structure has recently changed to be about £10,000-12,000 ($16,000-$19,000 @ £1:$1.6).  Living expenses on top of that is around £8,000-10,000, or an additional $13,000-$16,000, or about $28,000 by the end of the 1-year program.  Add on some additional funds for books, though if you're being particularly frugal you can get away without buying a ton of them.  Oh, and air fair.

The question then becomes whether $30-35,000 for your MA is worth it to you.  Remember, most UK-based degrees aren't going to offer regional specialism directly applicable to the US.  There are generalised degrees that are applicable, e.g., palaeopathology/forensic anthropology, historical archaeology, conflict archaeology etc. but if one is studying classical landforms?  You might have a bit of a harder time applying that in the American context.  (There are, of course, exceptions.)

In the US, it depends on the course and the university, in- or out-out-state tuition costs etc.  It can be of similar cost or it can be much, much more.
What do you think? If you've completed a UK degree and come back home, how have your credentials been received?

I'm a UK citizen and US national (not citizen!) but I have run into a number of standard and not-so-standard biases.  Typical ones include the UK-based graduate degrees being "half of a degree" (1-year Masters compared to 2-year Masters) or "not quite a Ph.D." (3-4 years vs. 5-6 years).  My absolute favourite was that "UK archaeology degrees are basically history degrees aren't they--they don't actually know anything about archaeology," but I've only heard that once.

On the other hand, a not-so-uncommon sentiment in the UK on the circuit (UK-name for "shovelbum") when I worked it seemed to be that US-based archaeologists couldn't "dig if their life depended on it," which is blatantly untrue.

Talking specifically about my degrees, when originally coming over to the country the federal government required that they be validated and otherwise proven to be equivalent to their UK equivalents.  Subsequently the credentials were also checked for accreditation purposes while teaching at a US university.

What are things students should look out for.

Primarily, do research on the university that you are thinking of applying to.  Does it have the course that you want to study?  Does it have the experience at running that course (e.g., you might not want to go for a taught degree in its first year being offered, but that might be perfect for a research-based degree)?  Does it have the right people there that are publishing in the area?  What is its teaching ranking?  What is its research ranking? 

And that broadly applies whether you're going for a UK- or US-based degree.

One can easily become a cash cow to these institutions as most international MPhils are not funded.

First, what do you mean by MPhil?  I don't want to run into one of those US-UK differences in applying a term, but it is my experience that very few domestic Masters degrees are funded let alone those taken by international students.

Quality of education- has very little to do with the teaching staff and almost everything to do with the student. You work hard, you can learn as much in 1yr as 3yr. 

I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, and only wish that undergraduates would cobble on to this as well.

With that said, where you do your degree can have an influence depending on what you want to do with it especially vis-a-vis networking or "pressing flesh" and what might otherwise be long-term objectives for the graduate degree in question.

CRM experience- except for a few schools most give your classic archaeology degree e.g. very little practical experience. That counts for both US and UK.
May I ask what you consider "very little practical experience."  If it's a reference to the requirement for field schools or their duration then, yes, not a huge amount.  Most field schools tend to be around 4 weeks, not all universities can offer them, and some require participation in multiple field schools.  Generally speaking, however, the fragmented time spent in the field is not usually up to the amount of time in the field that most employers like to see.
  
I've done at a lot of work as an undergrad studying archaeological materials using x-ray fluorescence and x-ray diffraction. I'm looking into pursuing the technical aspects of archaeological materials science

This might have changed somewhat since I was last there, but you might want to check out Bradford, Sheffield, Durham, Reading, Oxford, and Bournemouth.  There's a bias in there based around my own research, but those are the first ones to spring to mind when talking about the archaeometric study of archaeological materials.  There are others, e.g., York is ringing in the back of my head for some reason but that might have been abortive and depending on certain researchers moving there.  

My professor recommended I look into some programs in the UK, but I have heard that degrees from the UK are sometimes seen as less credible. Is that true? Is it worth it to go abroad to study exactly what I want?

There is a perception of that, but I think that it's broadly false.  Academically you're going to get broadly the same experience, but you're almost certainly not going to get any teaching experience.  (For example, in two universities that I attended, the student assistant/teaching assistant position that might be offered to an undergraduate in the US was actually filled by Ph.D. students in the UK.)  Few graduate degrees are going to incorporate field experience, and those that do are professional-focused degrees and you would run into the differences in structure between archaeology in the two countries (mostly legislative to practice).

If you've got a clear idea of what you want to do and a rough idea of where you're wanting to take it afterwards?  Yes, it can be worth while studying in a different country.

Again, though, pinch of salt and all that.  

Post ID#19802 - replied 10/16/2012 4:10 AM



DougRM

CRM experience- except for a few schools most give your classic archaeology degree e.g. very little practical experience. That counts for both US and UK.

MATrickett- May I ask what you consider "very little practical experience."

Sorry, that was not clear. In terms of practice experience I mean any experience relating to CRM. That including excavation but also report writing, project planning, etc. It especially includes any courses on the finer details of the law. Very few universities offer any sort of course on section 106 or in the UK PP16 (which is being phased out). Most people have only the basic grasp of why we do CRM or commercial archaeology (uk term). There are a few universities but for the most part they all train you to be an academic archaeology, with cross over skills of course. There are not that many dedicated courses to CRM, relative to more traditional ways of teaching.

Also, there has been a huge switch in the last 5 years in teaching at UK universities. MA's still do not teach BUT now almost every PhD can get teaching experience. Very, little and it is still optional but the system is change to gear more towards teaching or as they call it 'the American Model'. 

Post ID#19804 - replied 10/17/2012 12:27 PM



KB

I went to a traditional, brick & mortar, Master's program at a large state school in the USA.

It was a number of years ago but at the time, it was the PhD students who had first dibs on funding, teaching, and assistantships.  Unless your research especially piqued the interest of your advisor (or you brought your own funding), Terminal Master's students were pretty low priority.

It's been awhile but I recall the first about 3/4 of the program being coursework with the last semester finishing off and defending my thesis.

I only had one class on CRM (106, 404, NRHP, EPA, etc.) and a project management course.  Outside of that, I had to take courses in all of the sub-fields of Anthropology, a few seminars, statistics, and a few independent research projects.

Post ID#19809 - replied 10/19/2012 5:03 AM



rkeyo

Moderator
MATrickett, great post! Thanks! RE: CRM related courses, the Landscape Archaeology and Heritage programme that I took for my master's from Leicester was almost entirely geared to CRM, though approached in a manner that gave you the research skills should you decide to go on to a PhD. I had the major papers for two of the class modules published, and my thesis in it's entirety, which says something about the quality of the work required. Also, the work was graded by regular faculty, just as it would be if you took the classes on campus. And for what it's worth, I am inclined to think that one of the reasons there is resistance to accepting UK degrees is that it is genuine competition for US universities, and they don't like that. I think they have used their political connections and lobbying skills to place barriers in the way of using UK degrees.

Post ID#19816 - replied 10/20/2012 3:02 PM



MATrickett

First, thank you DougRM for taking the time to clarify.  I will stand corrected about the UK-based Ph.D's--I finished the Ph.D. many moons ago and have not been back to the UK academic scene for eight years.  I'm actually glad that they have changed this since it is one of the weaknesses of the UK-based Ph.D (or a distance learning one, for that matter).

Oh, a quick aside--it was probably a typographic, but for the sake of clarity and in case someone wishes to research more about UK archaeology, it is PPG16 rather than PP16.  Your Googling will be more successful with that term.

Again, though, with reference to "practical experience" I would tend to agree with your assessment.  One of the things that I would like to incorporate into an academic programme is more information on the application of NHPA/S106 and PPG16.  I think knowing more about the practical realities of archaeology would be a good thing for students to be exposed to, though I would imagine that such a course would not be very popular for somewhat obvious reasons.  Admittedly, I haven't been on the circuit for quite some time and my position in the US is more research-based so... take with a pinch of salt.  
...Landscape Archaeology and Heritage programme that I took for my master's from Leicester was almost entirely geared to CRM, though approached in a manner that gave you the research skills should you decide to go on to a PhD.

Are you referring to the "island" project?  I forget what it is called, but I remember talking to Bob Young about it back in 1996 when he was developing some of the basics for the distance-learning courses.  (I attended Leicester for my BSc. back in the day, so remember it fondly and frequently recommend it for distance-learning, in part because my wife recently completed her MA by distance-learning in Museum Studies.  There are some issues with the course, but those are ones shared by all distance-learning institutions and deal mostly with the instructors catching up with technology.)

And for what it's worth, I am inclined to think that one of the reasons there is resistance to accepting UK degrees is that it is genuine competition for US universities, and they don't like that. I think they have used their political connections and lobbying skills to place barriers in the way of using UK degrees.

That's an interesting perspective.  I think that both sides of The Pond have something to offer to the academic/training table, and only wish that there were more people with experience in shovelbumming/the circuit who would make the transition back into academia.  (I glance at numerous applications as I say this...)

Post ID#19826 - replied 10/22/2012 5:16 PM



bailey

I know you are asking about UK programs, but I thought I would mention Canadian master's programs - they are more like US programs in format (so 1 year coursework then 1-2 usually for research and write-up), but they are more likely to be separate from PhDs programs even for folks planning to do Phds and go into academia (as opposed to the combined programs common here in the US), so funding is available to MA students as well as the PhD students in the form of assistantships, including for Americans and other international students. And I don't know about eastern Canada, but out west there are opportunities to do CRM work, although I don't know how different it is from working in the US. I am an American and I considered doing an MA in the UK but ended up going to Canada instead. I got experience in both research and teaching, and although I took out loans to supplement the assistantships, you are able to get a work permit after 6 months and could work part-time and possibly need very little loan wise. At my particular institution, the international graduate student tuition cost was actually comparable to going somewhere in-state back home, and substantially less than out-of-state tuition elsewhere, but I don't know if that is the norm. Just thought I'd throw that out there!

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