Being an MRes student at the University of Birmingham is a tad different to what I experienced at my undergraduate degree. Gone were the days of daily lectures, laboratory sessions and SGTs, instead, we were given 4 weeks of daily lectures with almost zero contact hours for the rest of the term, which is the format for an MRes where you are expected to conduct your own research and manage your own ‘free time’. Unfortunately though, this ‘free time’ was filled with essay writing, PhD applications, lab work (on a do-it-when-you-want basis) and part-time work (those cheeky Costas in the morning start to add up).

Dabbling in teaching

Whilst every master’s degree is different (as is every undergraduate degree), for MRes science degrees, a general theme is the freedom to do extra activities and explore your own interests. As I have a strong passion for teaching, my course leader recommended that I attend seminars in ‘Teaching in Higher Education’ allowing me to work as a ‘Teaching Associate/Laboratory Demonstrator’ alongside my degree. This not only pays well (it pays great actually!) but it really helped bulk up my CV during the PhD applications as many doctoral students are almost expected to assist with teaching to some extent.

Why an MRes?

Why did I decide to do an MRes? After doing my undergraduate placement within a research laboratory in Spain, I really wanted to pursue doctoral studies in the same laboratory – for which I would require masters. After great consideration, I found the MRes BRIT course at Birmingham which gave you the home office licence for animal handling, a research project of your choice and course leaders which push you to attend research seminars on a weekly basis. For personal reasons, this ticked a lot of boxes, however, there were a load of other courses which grabbed my interest but truthfully, they were really expensive!

Studying abroad

During my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science, I managed to secure a 12 month long research placement as part of the Erasmus + scheme (€385/month…YAAS!) as well as more student finance than usual (SUPER YAAAS!!!!!). Whilst initially a daunting experience, it was an experience that I would recommend to everyone. A typical day was usually 8am -6/6.30pm and involved planning experiments, attending talks and writing reports on the data that I collected. During this I was treated as an employee, as a researcher! I had the freedom and control which we were not given at undergrad. Unfortunately, with power comes responsibility! As I was no longer a ‘student’, I was expected to work at the speed and accuracy as everyone else (after the initial training period)– this was a tad more stressful that I ever could have expected. Listening to my friends back home stress about their research project, job applications and their final year exams was in stark contrast to my life of experiments, reports, tapas and ‘tinto de verano’. This emphasised what a great opportunity this was (and one which they were missing out on!).

How to afford to do things other than study

How do I afford to study? (Don’t worry! This is a question we all ask ourselves). With the high contact time of undergrad, I worked most evenings in the on-campus bar dedicating the long awaited weekend for ‘me time’ and catching up on studies/house work. With the increase in free-time and flexibility that comes with studying an MRes, I’m now able to get all of my shifts in the typical 9-5 day (working in offices, helping with laboratory demonstrations with the undergrads, open days e.c.t). The one thing I need to stress is to look for part-time jobs (on Worklink) the moment you have your place at the university. There are a tonne of jobs available, and they pay well above the minimum living wage!

Connor is from the UK and is currently studying for an MRes in Biomedical Research: Integrative and Translational.