How the MRes Psychology programme has helped prepare me for my PhD

Duncan Bradley is a PhD student at The University of Manchester who recently graduated from The MRes Psychology programme. Undertaking a PhD is a big commitment and one that requires an individual to have numerous different skills. Below, Duncan explains how the MRes in Psychology has set up perfectly to tackle his PhD…

In September, I started my PhD here at The University of Manchester. My PhD will explore how people represent and interpret data visualisations. Previous to starting my PhD, I was on the MREs Psychology programme which gave me the opportunity to practice a variety of new skills and has provided me with a good foundation for my future studies.

The MRes was a fantastic experience with each module teaching me something valuable. The ‘Advanced Data Skills, Open Science and Reproducibility’ and ‘Advanced Statistics Workshop’ modules taught me about the assumptions behind statistical modelling techniques, and also provided useful maxims for navigating the complex world of analysis. In particular, the quote “all models are wrong, but some are useful” (George Box) is one phrase that sticks in my mind!

Developing my own analysis scripts for the assignments in these modules pushed me to explore different analysis methods, and also led me to discover valuable tools recently released by developers around the world. Hands-on practice improved my ability to find effective solutions to problems in my code, which will undoubtedly save me time during my PhD.

Due to what I had learned throughout my time on the MRes, I ended up writing the program for my dissertation project experiment. Despite using a different programming language to that used for statistical analysis, I wouldn’t have been able to approach this without the background and coding experience I gained from these modules.

In terms of other modules which have set me up well for my PhD, the Qualitative Research Methods module stands out. Before starting the module, I had doubts about how useful I would find it due to the fact that quantitative research, as opposed to qualitative, underpinned my dissertation project and general research interests. However, the assignments for this unit were ultimately beneficial for a number of reasons, making the module completely worthwhile.

Qualitative analysis often involves considering many detailed observations and reducing these into a comprehensible argument. This is similar to the process of writing and selecting information for a literature review. Experience in extracting key information, recognising relationships between concepts, and considering the ordering of points are relevant skills for discussing ideas in any discipline of psychology.

In addition, these written assignments provided good opportunities for tackling tight word counts. I practiced continuous editing and concise writing to avoid removing important content. Being able to focus on what’s important and eliminating any filler is so important when writing essays and the written assignments gave me the opportunity to tackle this challenge.

For me, the most valuable aspects of the Psychology MRes course have been what have I learnt through working on the assignments. This independent study has encouraged me to apply methods covered in classes, and also engage in wider reading to explore new, advanced techniques. I now can’t wait to continue with my PhD and see where it takes me in the long run. I have no doubts that my MRes will come in handy frequently over the next few years, and beyond, as I forge my career path.


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