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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 is the second-highest qualification on the Australian Qualifications Framework, and includes Master of Philosophy (MPhil). A master’s degree by research is generally considered to advance learning in a subject with a research and scholarship context, rather than with the intention of professional practice. Depending on the course and faculty, your master’s degree by research may have a coursework component. Check with your faculty. 

A master’s degree by research can be completed in its own right, or it can be a gateway to study a PhD. Additionally, some students may exit their PhD degree early and be awarded a master’s degree upon examination of their thesis. 


A master’s by research degree generally takes 1–2 years full time, or up to 4 years’ part-time study. Part-time enrolment is available to domestic students only. 

Probation and progress review 

All HDR candidates, including master’s degree by research students, undergo a progress review approximately every 12 months. Read more about progress reviews

In some faculties, candidates proceed through probation of no more than 4 research periods before being confirmed, or transferred to a PhD.  


All HDR students must have a supervisory team with a minimum of 2 supervisors, one of whom will be your lead supervisor and responsible for the overall supervisory experience. For more information, read Supervision: your rights and responsibilities 


The master’s thesis must be a supervised thesis and represent a genuine contribution to the subject field. It will normally be between 20 000 – 50 000 words depending on the course resolutions of your faculty. The maximum word length doesn’t include appendices. 

An extension of up to 10 000 words can be permitted by the dean, associate dean (research education), 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 submission and examination processes for a master’s thesis are governed by the same policies as for a PhD. Read more about submitting your thesis.

Transfer to a PhD 

If you are doing a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or another master’s by research degree, the ability to transfer to a PhD varies according to each course and faculty. Each faculty or school sets requisites for a transfer, including that you: 

  • have met key milestones in your current progress plan
  • demonstrate that your research meets the requirements of a doctorate 
  • demonstrate your ability to complete the requirements of a doctorate in your remaining period of candidature 
  • have settled supervisory arrangements, especially a lead supervisor for the PhD. 

Make your transfer request in Sydney Student and include relevant documentation. The request usually assumes support by your current supervisor and is determined by the associate dean (research education), in consultation with your postgraduate coordinator. 

Master of Philosophy (MPhil) as early exit from PhD 

PhD candidates may exit earlier with an award of Master of Philosophy if they have met the relevant master’s degree by research requirements, as well as any course resolutions; and if approved by the associate dean (research education). Award of an MPhil may also be one outcome of a PhD thesis examination. 

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Written by SUPRA Postgraduate Advocacy Service March 2023.

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