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Course Based Vs Research Based Masters

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My masters had both options. In general the research based masters are treated a little more prestigiously at my University and certainly you are eligible for FAR more awards (including national awards) if you are research based instead of course based. There is some variation by area of study but in general if you plan to go on to a PhD then a research-based masters will probably make that path a bit easier. Likewise, if you are looking for publications then a research masters will set you up better for that (but you could also work with a prof on an extracurricular research project if you decided to go course based).

The director of admissions for the medical school at my university recommends you chose your masters with your eyes on what you will do with your masters if you don't get into medical school. If you look at the course based masters and it makes more sense in the context of your "plan B" career then do the course based. If the research-based masters makes more sense then do the research-based one. 


Speaking from my personal experience (I switched from a course based to a research based masters in the middle of my program so I will have technically completed the requirements for both) if you don't like research and you don't like writing then dear god DO NOT do a research based masters because you will spend SO MUCH TIME hating the process. If you like research and you either have an interesting question to answer or you have the opportunity to join a lab that will likely give you the chance to research something that interests you then you'll probably have a great time with the research-based masters. I can honestly say the process of doing my thesis has taught me a TON not only about my area of interest but also about myself. It's been an incredibly valuable experience, even though it has also been painfully tedious and a giant pain in my butt on many occasions :-)

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On 8/14/2015 at 6:45 PM, DoctorS said:

If one is to do a masters, does it matter if it is a course based or research based masters? Do medical schools prefer one over the other? 


I heard that UofT prefers research based masters but I wasn't sure.

I also had a choice to pursue either a masters of public health (course-based) or go for a master of science (thesis-based) at my school of public health, though the former would be in biostatistics (my original goal) while the latter would be in epidemiology.

There are numerous factors to consider when making this decision... note that these factors don't all contribute to improving your medical school admission chances

Passion for research + future potential

On 8/14/2015 at 7:08 PM, MSWschnoodle said:
... if you don't like research and you don't like writing then dear god DO NOT do a research based masters because you will spend SO MUCH TIME hating the process....

I cannot agree with this point alone.... In my honesty opinion, anyone that even is unsure of their desire to do research should consider turning away from research-based programs. While a masters may not seem grueling due to the time commitment (though 2-3 years some would argue is a lot of time when you're young), if you dislike research, repeating results, writing publications, being in a lab all day, etc...... don't do it. You will only make yourself and everyone else around you miserable, while risking an increased potential to produce low quality work.


Now that the PSA is over...


To answer your question more explicitly, a research-based masters is often more recognized, meaning that you'll likely score extra points in various medical school applications somehow (whether it's a GPA boost, additional points on the overall application, etc). A course-based masters is generally not given point in the medical app process, mainly because despite the interesting topics and diversity of experience you can gain (varied courses, practicum, capstone etc), it's hard for a university to really evaluate the strength of the program, the coursework, and to some extent the final deliverables. A research masters is generally more recognized and all have to go through a fairly challenging defense, reviewed by distinguished peers.

On the other end of the spectrum, it's unclear how much the bonuses can change one's overall app... if you only started a masters and haven't been consistently keeping up (or in some cases improving on) activities and grades... it won't make a difference. A research masters generally has too few courses to move your GPA at all, so if it's GPA or MCAT that you are weak at, the thesis-based masters is not the cure for those problems.

In short... do the MSc if it's something you care about and are willing to put in the time commitment (don't just randomly leave your supervisor... like wtf?)


The benefits of a MPH for medical school however is in other aspects....

1. GPA improvement

Since there are many more courses to take than a research masters, you may take enough (depending on the program) courses to have it weigh similar to your undergrad. Most importantly, if you had two weak years during undergrad or your weakest year was your most recent year, having an extra year in a course-based masters program will allow you to remove that senior year, whereas if you don't then you can't remove your most recent year in the calculation... For me this was lucrative, since I struggled with my mental well-being and bombed by BSc graduating year hard. If I wanted to apply again, I couldn't get those marks removed from the calculations unless I had another year's worth of education... ding ding course-based masters allowed me to do that substitution. *note that different schools have different criteria for graduate grades (ex. UofA weighs them by course weight like undergrad, UofC takes your entire masters education and make it have one year's weight...)*

2. Diversity of experience *disclaimer, this doesn't mean research-based masters can't have diverse experiences*

In a course-based masters, most have what we call a practicum, followed by a capstone project for graduation purposes. After you finish your required classes based on program requirements, you have to do a practicum (similar to a co-op in engineering), where you work for at least 16 weeks in an organization to contribute your skills and learn in a practical settings. In my case, I worked at Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Branch over the summer as a biostatistician. I definitely felt that getting first hand exposure to large organizations and interacting with people from all backgrounds (physicians, epidemiologists, programmers etc...) was great for personal growth. Being involved in interdisciplinary work also can teach you to be more diverse and understand more than just your own field. This same logic can be applied to the capstone project, which basically asks you to demonstrate your developed skills to work on a different project after the practicum. Your experiences can be written as additional ECs, enhance personal statements, and create an overall stronger application in a more intangible way.

It's unclear to me how many opportunities there are in a research-based program for this, outside of PI collaborations with other PIs / clinicians (though I acknowledge there are cases where people have much more diverse experiences...see disclaimer). For myself, as much as I liked research... I wanted to get involved in numerous projects from different fields (health care, environmental health, health promotion etc....) and I couldn't see that opportunity happen in my MSc program.


On the other hand, the MSc program has a much greater opportunity for peer-reviewed publications. Despite publishing reports and dashboards in Health Canada, nothing can be released since they are internal documents. Furthermore, many deliverables produced are so diverse it's hard for an adcom to really quantify its value. That said, I had the opportunity to pursue research on the side, outside of class time and had publications on those instead. At the end of the day you get what you put in.

Regardless of which path you choose, they both can be enriching experiences. It's really important to take it all in, and make the best of your time. Get involved, learn more, don't just do what's necessary and leave. If you want to make it something worthwhile or experience something greater... in the wise words of Shia ... JUST DO IT (ex. I had a friend who fought tooth and nail to do her practicum at the WHO working on HIV epidemiology and containment in South Asian countries, which is amazing for any entry level graduate student to be involved in. I had others fight to get into the CDC and do work there... the potential is there).

So yeah... there's relative strengths and areas for improvements for both options, and each medical school weighs them differently. Ultimately you'll have to decide which is preferable to you.


Good luck =D,


- G

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  • 1 year later...

I have done Masters of  science in  food safety and control(1 year)  from UK university which had assessment in the form of written exams,assignments and one research project in the last semester.

I am applying to MD uni of Toronto, so what do you guys think should I apply as a course based graduate applicant or research based graduate applicant?

I am really confused, can anyone help me?

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