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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school


Programme and Aims

The MSc by Research in Social Policy provides a structured programme of research training in social policy research. Some students apply to take the MSc by Research in Social Policy as a stand alone degree, while others use it as the first year of an integrated MSc/PhD programme in Social Policy. It has been designed to train students in research skills to the level prescribed in the generic and subject-specific research training guidelines of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). 

The normal curriculum comprises of four research training courses from the doctoral programme, two substantive courses in social policy that are of particular relevance to the student and are chosen in light of their background and interests, and a 15,000-word dissertation.

Aims and Outcomes

By the end of the first year, all students (whether they are registered for an MSc by Research or a PhD in Social Policy) should be able to:

  • understand and have "hands-on" experience of a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods;
  • be familiar with the basis principles of research design;
  • possess skills in research management and be aware of the principles of research ethics;
  • be able to link between theory and method and understand the epistemological implications of different methodological approaches;
  • have an advanced understanding of two selected areas of social policy;
  • have direct experience of all stages in the drawing up of a research proposal.

Structure and courses

A normal programme would involve successful completion of the following core research training courses offered by the Graduate School of Social and Political Science:

Subject-specific training:

Students also take two substantive Social Policy courses, chosen from list below.

Students may take another research training course in place of one of the substantive courses in social policy or, indeed, may benefit from the wide range of courses available around the University. In particular, students who wish to carry out research involving children is drawn to the course entitled Listening to Children: Research and Consultation.

All students attend a rolling programme of doctoral seminars in social policy. This comprises three elements as follows: subject-specific seminars led by members of staff, work-in-progress seminars presented by doctoral students, and transferable skills seminars. 


The MSc dissertation (15,000 words) constitutes the main work in which students demonstrate the extent to which they have achieved the crucial learning outcomes from the first year of research training. For students who intend to proceed to a PhD, it normally takes the form of an extended research proposal with the following components:

  • a review of the literature, both theoretical and empirical;
  • an outline and justification of the specific questions to be addressed, plus a statement of the expected contribution of the study to the field;
  • an elaboration and justification of the research design and methods to be employed, including a discussion of analysis;
  • a discussion of any practical, political and ethical issues affecting the conduct of the research;
  • a presentation of the schedule for the research.
Edinburgh Students