Good PG Diploma vs bad MSc?


I'm in a tricky situation and hope someone can help. I've just finished a MSc but have failed the dissertation. I can either redo the diss. within a year and get a MSc pass, or get a PG Diploma with Merit for my other 120 credits.

I'm now applying for PhDs (in a somewhat different subject) and am sure I'll have to defend my failure in either case, but which will serve me better for academic applications (PhD and beyond)? Are PGDs respected? And is it important for PhD applications that I'd be able to graduate with that soon but wouldn't if I opted for resubmission?

Also bear in mind that resubmitting would cost more money and quite a lot of time, and that I could possibly spend that time instead gaining research experience in a field more relevant to my PhD applications.

Any advice would be much, much appreciated. :-)


I would poll others oppinions, however unless you have a good reason for your failure I think failure to pass a MSc dissertation will adversely affect your PHd applications.

A PHd is much more work and with less support than a dissertation. You should consider resubmitting because unless you can do this a PHd may not be the right option for you.


I agree with what has been said already - I think that without evidence of research you would find it very difficult to get onto a PhD and certainly would not get funding. Competition is very high (and in the current climate will get tougher) - you will be competing aginst people who have distinctions at Masters. Many of us on the forum have distinctions at Masters and are still self funding our PhDs. PGDips are generally seen as a failed Masters dissertation (I know of one person who has one who opted not to take his MSc dissertation as he already has a PhD but that is very unusual). Even if you pass at the retake you will have a challenge in explaining why it took you the extra year.

Good Luck with whatever you decide to do.


i agree with the advice to resubmit. Failing a Masters dissertation is an extremely worrying sign for anyone wanting to go onto a PhD. At least if you resubmit and successfully pass you've overcome that hurdle, and have shown you can do it. And, yes, doing a PhD thesis is much much harder than doing a Masters dissertation.

The only other way around might be if there were very good external reasons why you failed. But even those would have to be overcome and be in the past for you to be able to go on to do a PhD.


Thanks for the advice so far, though a little worrying! Dafydd said that a PhD would involve less supervision but I don't think that would be the case for me as I had literally zero supervision for my MSc. That, and other reasons mean that I can probably just about defend it, and a PhD is certainly what I want to do.

Am I right in thinking that my quest to find a few months of research experience, and get a glowing reference, is very important?

And while retrying the dissertation to prove that I can seems wise, wouldn't it be of no use - or actually harmful - to my current PhD applications?


Hi, I have been working in two universities for past four and half years so I can offer you a different perspective on your issue. I don't know on which universities are you applying but I can give you general pointers. First of all, you don't need masters to apply for PhD. If you have a first class degree or 2.1 with a dissertation grade of 70% or over then you should have no problem to get on the PhD. If you have anything else then you might have quite a difficulty to overcome it.

In regards to your good PG Dip or bad MSc then I would definitely go for good PG Dip. That way you can argument that during the studies you realised that although the subject was very interesting your main research interest lies somewhere else and therefore you decided to opt out at the PG Dip stage. When you are awarded PG Dip no one will see from the results that you failed the dissertation so no need to explain... And if you have a good PG Dip it shows everyone that you are keen on your personal development and therefore could be a good material for PhD as well.

If you decide to re-submit the dissertation then even if you get an excellent mark you will always have to explain what went wrong the first time round and it can cast quite a big shadow on your PhD application.

If I were you I would go to the university(ies) you are applying for and asked for the Programme Director. You can then get bit more information about the programme and also you can discuss your applications. Generally Programme Directors especially in research area are very approachable and willing to help because good research students = good reputation for university which then affects ranking as well and so on.

Finally, last thought, if you take the PG Dip and then realise that PhD is too much to bite then you can always go and do different masters in an area that is closer to your heart.

Anyways good luck with any choice you make. ;-)


Very much appreciative thanks for your explanation experts


Hey, that's a tough decision. First I think you need to establish whether you need the masters to apply for the PhD. I know one of the posts below says that you don't need an MSc to apply for a PhD, but actually in some subjects you do need a masters before they will consider you for a PhD- it is an official requirement in my subject at my university and every PhD student has done one. It also depends a bit on the reasons you failed your dissertation. Certainly it doesn't look good applying for a PhD when you failed your MSc dissertation- as others have said, the PhD is a lot tougher and standards are higher. But why did you fail your MSc dissertation? How much work would it take to re-do it? I agree with the others that a PGDip doesn't look too good on the CV (I have a diploma from another uni course I started at a different uni years ago, and dropped out of because I wanted to change subjects, and I don't even put it on my CV because I think it looks bad). I would persevere with getting the MSc, and try to get research experience as well to strengthen your PhD application. Good luck, KB


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I'm sorry to read about your MSc dissertation :( What happended? I'm almost certain for jobs and PhD interviews, you will be asked why you failed your dissertation....... PhD applications tend to require a reference from your MSc supervisor- and they will disclose your results.

I've recently finished a PhD and I'm waiting for my PhD viva in January.  I have a BSc, MSc, MSc, PgCert and I'm currently applying for psychology practitioner doctorates in order to eventually work as a chartered psychologist. Prior to my PhD, I completed 2 MScs. My first MSc was stage 1 for chartership in one area and my 2nd MSc was ESRC accredited research methods training. At the moment, as I'm waiting for my PhD viva, I'm in the middle of a PgCert/PgDip(haven't decided whehter to continue onto PgDip) in order to improve my skills and revision for practitioner doctorate interviews in the next few months. Because of my other qualifications- I don't consider my PgCert or PgDip a bad thing at all! I simply don't have the money, energy or motivation to complete a third masters degree!

I'm afraid you will probably struggle gaining a PhD place. My PhD interview consisted of rigorous questions regarding my MSc marks, my research experience, publications and my MSc dissertations. An MSc dissertation is important for demonstrating academic merit and could be viewed as a brief introduction into conducting research at postgraduate level. Universities need to be confident you could withstand the academic pressures of postgraduate and PhD life (which are immense!!!)

Also, consider PhD funding studentship. ESRC +3 PhD studentship advertised by some universities advertise for students with completed ESRC accredited MSc (not a PgDip). For my PhD funding it was essential for applicants to have an ESRC accredited MSc in research methods.

Is there anyway way you could leave with a PgDip and start a brand new MSc (ideally accredited by the ESRC so you could apply for ESRC studentship). I appreciate the money aspect- I've only managed the above by living at home (I'm 29), loads of debts and not having a life- I have no support from my family. Otherwise, I agree with other replies- leave with an MSc if you want to progress with a PhD. Also, jobs advertise for people with MScs (ie graduate psychology jobs)- further evidence to finish with an MSc!

By the way, I received a 2.2 in my first degree, but I received very high merits in my MSc degrees along with 5 different psychology graduate jobs/positions. Despite the odds, I managed to obtain a competitive PhD studentship(but I'm a very rare exception!). I also have offers for a Doctorate in Health Psychology for Sept 2011.......