Third master's as part of 1+3 studentship: career suicide?


Hi everybody,

I come from an academic background in statistics (BSc, MSc) and business (MSc). For some time now I have been very interested in pursuing a PhD in the social sciences in a topic of interest with an outlook to a future career in academia; while I may be theoretically and thematically venturing into relatively new territory, my methodology is heavily influenced by my statistics background. Fortunately, I have been successful in securing an interdisciplinary-minded ESRC studentship but perhaps less fortunately it is for a 1+3 (Master's + PhD) award as opposed to the +3 that I stated as my preference. Clearly, this is to do with the ESRC training requirements on general (quant&qual) social science research methods training which I must have not adequately demonstrated despite my past training and proposal focus on quantitative methods.

So my predicament is whether to undertake this or not - I would personally be fine with taking additional formal training especially if this is funded but seeing as this would by my third Master's I am cautious as to not hurt any of the few employment prospects in the academic job market in the future; as far as I am aware multiple master's degrees may be a massive red flag and do more harm than good. Consequently I am not sure whether I should be looking for a different avenue to just go straight to a PhD instead

Does anyone know if this is indeed likely to have a negative impact? Or perhaps it being part of an award makes it less concerning? Also how common or uncommon is this in the academic social science job market?



Social scientist here - unusual to have three masters but not as problematic as trying to do a social science PhD without knowing anything about social science theories and methods if you hope for an academic career in the field. It's quite common for social scientists to have two masters because of the ESRC rule so it wouldn't stand out that much anyway. And remember you'd be competing with people who've gone through the N American PhD system which has years of coursework before the thesis, so you need to be able to offer more than the narrow topic of your thesis. Another tip - you say interdisciplinary but you might want to decide what subject you're aiming at so you ensure your publications, teaching and networking align. The danger is otherwise you end up not fitting anywhere.


It can't do any harm! It's a pain in some ways to have to do another, but definitely can't harm you. You can just explain why you ended up with three. I know several people with two plus a PhD.


Can I just ask - why is it not good to have three masters (in your sector)?


I'm kind of wondering the same...! I mean, I can see why it might be a bit unusual - wow, three masters... why? But the only negative interpretation I can think of is that the person assumes that you are addicted to the student life and don't want to get into the world of work. But it is something that can easily be explained in any personal statement, interview, or conversation. When could this ever be considered anything as strongly as career suicide?


Thanks for the responses so far - encouraging to hear views that it may be not too unusual or even a potentially necessary course of action for my case. My impression that three master's degrees may be harmful for one's shot at an academic career comes from looking at the profiles of the average researcher in the social science areas I am interested in (relatively but not excessively broad scope, against which bewildered sensibly cautions) and admittedly some 'common sense' convention.

As you say most researchers are likely to have had a Master's+PhD or 2xMaster's+PhD trajectory and I haven't really come across many at all with three master's (not in lucrative posts anyway), consequently I worry that it may convey a lack of focus or progression in an already overcompetitive academic job market. Of course, as Tudor_Queen points out, I feel I can justify this trajectory, but not sure whether this is enough when you are competing with people with a much quicker and straightforward path to the roles I am aiming for.

As bewildered also cautions, I've no arrogance that I can jump in a PhD in a new discipline without some good foundations - I think that I have had a good amount of relevant research methods training through parts of my education to date and a good length of relevant work experience, so it was on this basis that I was . attempting to pursue three-year funding where I can make up for any gaps in training in the first year. I suppose another question here would be whether it's realistic to expect 3-year funding by ESRC on this basis alone.

An additional variable is that my awarded 1+3 is at the same institution as my BSc and first MSc - despite it being at a different department I imagine there is the danger of the impression of so-called 'academic inbreeding', which must be another can of worms altogether; so not sure how important this is in the whole multiple degrees conundrum as well.


Hi Visquire

Ah OK - I thought maybe there was some other issue I wasn't aware of. Yeh, I don't think unusual is a red light flasher in this scenario. By the way, have you actually contacted them explained your situation and asked if you could simply do the +3? It would save them money so maybe they wouldn't have too many objections if you make a strong case for it!

Re staying in the same institution. I've heard that this used to be perceived as a negative whereas this is less so the case these days. From my personal experience (UG, MRES, PhD all in the same place), I think it is good to go elsewhere rather than stay in the same place. But I think that's less an issue for employers etc and more of a personal preference. Others may have different experiences/opinions. Anyway, something to off-set any potential disadvantage could be to try and at least visit another lab during your PhD - maybe go for an ESRC overseas institutional award if you can find somewhere willing to host you for a few weeks. This could help broaden your experience and help you to meet new potential collaborators etc.