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Master’s degree by research


Please note, the information below is specific to degrees at the University of Sydney.

A Master’s degree by research is considered a gateway to study at the PhD level. A master’s degree by research is the second-highest qualification on the Australian Qualifications Framework. Depending on the course and faculty, the Master’s degree by research may have a coursework component. Check with your faculty.


Transfer to PhD

If you are doing a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or another Master’s degree by research, the ability to transfer to a PhD during the course varies according to each course and faculty. In most cases an application to transfer needs to be approved by your supervisor, meet progression requirements, and demonstrate that your research is of a sufficient scope and depth to sustain a doctoral thesis.


During a Master’s by research

Architecture Design & Planning, Dentistry, Faculty of Health Sciences, Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing:

  • Satisfactory progress to a PhD standard within the first year.
  • Granted credit for research work completed.

Business School:

  • Satisfactory completion of probationary period + 3 coursework units + thesis proposal defence.
  • Granted credit for research work completed.

Science, Agriculture, Veterinary Sciences:

  • Satisfactory progress to a PhD standard within the first year + already completed Honour’s or equivalent.

On completion of a Master’s degree

MA (Research) – Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)

Master of Laws (Research) – Law

If you are a candidate in the Master of Surgery by research or Master’s by research degree at The Conservatorium of Music you cannot transfer to a PhD.



The Master’s by Research degree will generally have a duration of one to two years full-time, or up to four years’ part time study. Part-time enrolment is available to domestic students only.


Scholarships and tuition fees

As of 2017, domestic students undertaking a Higher Degree by Research (HDR) including Master’s by research are covered by the Research Training Program (RTP), formally the Research Training Scheme, and exempt from fees. RTP Stipend Scholarships are awarded to domestic HDR students to assist with general living costs. The University also provides University of Sydney Postgraduate Awards (UPA), which are merit based. All eligible RTP Stipend applicants are automatically considered for the UPA.

As of 2017, meritorious international HDR students may be fee exempt by being funded through the Research Training Program (RTP) Fee Scholarship scheme. This scheme replaces the International Postgraduate Research Scheme (IPRS). The University of Sydney also awards an RTP Stipend Scholarship to all International RTP Fee Scholarship recipients to assist with general living costs.

If you are studying full-time and are receiving an RTP scholarship, employment hours outside of your studies are restricted to 20 hours per week. If you are studying part-time, employment hours are restricted to 10 hours per week. If your employer is the University, you can hold a maximum of 50% of a full-time appointment if you are a full-time student. These hours include weeknights and weekends.

Further information about postgraduate research scholarships can be accessed on the University website:


Probation and Progress Review

In some Faculties candidates proceed through probation of no more than 4 Research Periods before being confirmed or transferred to a PhD. All HDR candidates including Master’s degree by research undergo an Annual Progress Review approximately every 12 months.



A Master’s by research candidate must have a minimum of 2 supervisors, although in practice, some Faculties may have only one research supervisor for a Master’s by research candidate.



The Master’s thesis must be a supervised thesis and represent a genuine contribution to the subject field. It must be between 30,000 to 80,000 words depending on the course resolutions of your faculty. An extension of up to 10,000 words can be given with permission by the Dean, Associate Dean of Research, or Chair of the Faculty Committee. Course resolutions can be found on your faculty website or check with the Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre (HDRAC). The maximum word length excludes appendices.



The submission and examination process for a Masters’ thesis is governed by the same policies as for PhD, except that for Master’s the minimum number of examiners is two, and one examiner may be internal.

Master of Philosophy (MPhil) as early exit from PhD

PhD candidates may exit earlier with an award of Master of Philosophy when they have met the relevant Master’s degree by research requirements; as well as any course resolutions; and as approved by the faculty (normally the Postgraduate Research Coordinator or Head of School). Award of an MPhil may also be one outcome of a PhD thesis examination.

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