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Why I decided to intercalate in a Master's

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

So, I have officially received an offer from the University of Cambridge to complete an MPhil in Medical Science with the Psychiatry department next year and I thought I would share the reasons for why I applied.

Firstly, you're probably thinking: what is a Master in Philosophy (MPhil)? How is different from other Master's courses such as an MSc or an MRes? All of these acronyms!

  • An MPhil is an advanced research degree that is most commonly undertaken as a stepping stone towards a PhD.

  • A Master of Research (MRes) is similar to an MPhil but focused on in-depth learning in specific areas. You are likely to be taught a few modules related to your research.

  • An MSc is a Master of Science. MSc’s are exclusive to STEM-based subjects, such as engineering, physics, and maths, and will have structured teaching.

Throughout my MPhil course, I am expected to participate in a weekly series of seminars in cognitive neuroscience during the first 2 terms and attend lectures relevant to my field of research. I will also get literature search training, can attend optional workshops on stats, etc., and present my research at conferences and seminars.

Whilst each of these degrees leads to a postgraduate Master's qualification, they’re designed for different career paths – an MSc is good for a career in industry, an MPhil for a career in research, teaching, or on the way to a PhD and an MRes can be applicable to research and industry. Learning the differences between these forms of postgraduate study will allow you to make an informed decision about your next steps and offer a clearer path to your ideal career. Although I’m not sure just yet if I want to do a PhD in the future yet, there are a few reasons why I only applied to this MPhil course at Cambridge.

So what were my reasons?

I have one year to do whatever I like... why not aim for the highest that I can because what have I got to lose?

I ONLY applied to this Master's course at Cambridge University because I thought: why not apply for a challenging course at a top institution and see what happens?! I came across a supervisor who I had read a lot about and her research was something I really wanted to get involved in. I also wanted an opportunity to work with world-class clinicians (especially in child health) at a university like Cambridge and thankfully, I received an offer!

I won't go into the application process or funding in this post but I had 2 interviews with my supervisor and we naturally built a good rapport. She could see that I was passionate about her research area and we came up with a research project idea from there.

I need a break from Medicine!

Medical school has worn me down a little bit this year and I realised that I wanted to intercalate to be able to experience something new and really delve into my interests in research! To be honest, being able to study at THE University of Cambridge is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I know I will learn so much, challenge myself academically and when I return to medical school next year, I'll be a new person with a better idea of what I want to do with my career!

I want to apply to the Academic Foundation Programme

Despite the UKFPO announcement that intercalated degrees and publications no longer count towards junior doctor applications, this did not deter me because I want to apply to the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) which will STILL look at additional qualifications and publications/presentations. (See the Freedom of Information request detailing this here)

Undertaking a year of research for this Master's course like this will serve me well in my future academic clinical career and getting a place on the AFP is one of my goals once I graduate from medical school. Furthermore, I would LOVE to complete my AFP years at one of the hospitals in Cambridge as they have some fantastic options available and I love the city (I used to live there before moving to London in 2005). The "academic theme" of the AFP is dedicated to the undertaking of academic research, management/ leadership, or education and teaching activities. I am really interested in each of these options and I am academically inclined. I won't write in detail about the AFP in this post, but to find out more about it, please see my blog post on the Foundation Programme application process.

It will contribute to specialty applications

Core medical and surgical training programmes still look at publications and further degrees as part of their application processes. Although they are not weighted as heavily as interviews, this will still help me stand out, and depending on what I decide to specialise in, this Master's will never be a 'waste' of my time, effort, or money. Although I have many interests at the moment, the driving force for this application was my interest in Paediatrics / Child health which my research project encompasses. Furthermore, mental health feeds into all medical specialties and is slowly becoming the biggest global disease burden. I have no doubt that this research will not only change my life but so many others.

I know that once I start working, I will not want to go back to education!

Since the UKFPO announcement, the pressure to complete an extra degree during an intercalated year was lessened. I started to think it would save me time, effort, and stress by completing a Master's after my foundation years... which it probably will! But I also knew that once I start working as a doctor, I will not want to return to education and fund my own Master's. Instead, the NHS Bursary is covering my tuition fees and some of my maintenance next year and I am awaiting scholarship decisions. In addition, my research project is time-sensitive and relevant to the scientific community now (as it is related to COVID-19).


To apply for this course, I had to submit a research proposal. My supervisor and I will be investigating the impact of COVID-19 on mood disorders in children, young people, and families. The adverse mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been superimposed on the rising mental health issues in children and adolescents. I will be spending 12 months trying to determine what has changed and the knock-on effects on their neurodevelopment.

This research project will be the first one I ever do from start to finish that I can call my own and I really wanted to do that at Cambridge because my supervisor works with me 1-1 throughout the year. I am so excited to be able to get my teeth stuck into this project and hopefully produce a high-quality dissertation (of ~20k words... *shudders*) that can directly contribute to clinical practice.

It is important to note that the assessment of a Master's is rigorous, especially at an Oxbridge institution. Along with my written thesis of 20,000 words, I also have an oral examination based on both the thesis and the wider field of knowledge of the chosen area of research. This is clearly not everyone's cup of tea!

So, there you have it, the main reasons I decided to intercalate!

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