Course overview

Our MA Social Science Research (Social Policy and Social Work) is aimed at students who are interested in developing a wide range of social science research techniques. It will equip you with the theory and practical skills that are needed to carry out independent research.

It is part of the Midlands Graduate School ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership, which recognises the importance of bringing cutting-edge expert knowledge to the heart of doctoral training.

You'll learn about methods and techniques used in social science research such as:

  • data collection and analysis
  • the philosophical, ethical and political issues that underpin social science research
  • theories of research design

You'll be lead by experts who are involved in projects that inform public and social policy, in areas such as social care, identities and criminal justice. You'll graduate ready for research posts in academic, voluntary, private and third-sector settings.

Why choose this course?

Develop your skills

preparing you to undertake a PhD

Learn from the experts

as part of the Midlands Graduate School ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership

89% of our research

ranked as world-leading or internationally excellent

Course content

You will complete 60 credits of core research methods modules, plus 20 credits of subject-specific training, a 20-credit elective module (or two 10-credit elective modules), and a 60-credit, dissertation.

The individual dissertation project provides you with the opportunity for a sustained engagement in the development and refinement of knowledge and understanding through detailed exploration of a specific issue.

You will be assigned an appropriate dissertation supervisor who will oversee your progress.


Core modules

Philosophy of Research - Social Science

The module has three parts:

  1. Science and the philosophical critique of science
  2. Epistemological debates in the social sciences - including, but not limited to, positivism and its critics, interpretative approaches including phenomenology, critical realism, social construction and the politics of knowledge and the sociology of science
  3. The funding environment - interdisciplinarity and the impact agenda
Research Design, Practice and Ethics

This module focuses on the analytical, practical and ethical organisation of social science research. 

The organisation of analysis is often referred to as 'research design' and will constitute the bulk of the content of this module. Research design consists of choices necessary to transform a research question into actual research. These choices pertain to strategies and modes of case selection, observation methods, data collection and analysis. 

Every research question can be elaborated in different ways (ie with different designs), none of which will be ideal in all respects as the various choices pertain to trade-offs. Each design has its own implications in terms of costs and in terms of potential threats to the validity of its eventual results. These implications will be elaborated in the module, along with ways of handling the resulting choice problems in actual practice.

The practical organisation of research is closely related to design choices, but focuses particularly on logistical and timing issues. Ethical organisation of the research involves awareness of ethical issues, of ethical consent procedures and of their implications for research design and practical organisation.

Fundamentals of Quantitative Analysis

This module aims to give you:

  • An understanding of statistical analysis methods, using topics and datasets from empirical social science literature
  • A familiarity with STATA statistical software and data management

The course uses a range of datasets from across political science, focusing on topics such as social capital, voter turnout, cabinet duration, demonstration activity and class voting.

Foundations in Qualitative Research Methods

This module provides a conceptual overview of the various approaches and debates associated with the theory and practice of qualitative research. It examines a range of contrasting perspectives on the design of research including problem identification, selection and sampling, and analysis.

Research ethics, and the role of the researcher in generating qualitative data, are key themes which run through the module. Specific consideration is given to the ways in which qualitative and quantitative approaches may be seen as complementary, and the use of mixed methods.

The module will also cover the ways in which qualitative research can be evaluated. The module will also facilitate dialogue between members of different social science disciplines, to give an understanding of how some issues or practices may be viewed differently from different disciplinary perspectives.


You will complete a 60-credit 15,000-word dissertation. You will be assigned an appropriate dissertation supervisor who will oversee your progress.

Subject specific modules

Social Work pathway:

Contemporary Issues and Debates in Social Work

This module examines the nature of contemporary debates and issues in social work by focusing on the nature of knowledge in social work and some of the main social theories which conceptualise social work and its relationship to the state, society and the individual.

You will be able to understand how different theoretical approaches provide different ways of thinking about the nature of social work in advanced modern societies and their implications for social work practice. 

The debates covered will include:

  • how to protect children and vulnerable adults
  • personalisation and adult care
  • the role of research in social work and evidence-based practice
  • reflexivity
  • structure/agency, power and inequalities
  • risk and the bureaucratisation of social work

Social Policy pathway:

Investigating Social Policy

The module will examine the 'flow' of policy making from inception to implementation. The first part of the module will explore various theories of policy making at different levels and will take the form of a seminar with previous set readings. The latter part of the module will be related to recent or current research undertaken by central or local government in the UK, or Europe, though examples may also come from other countries.

Attempts will be made, where possible, to include evidence from recent or current research undertaken in the school. You will be provided with a guide to paper and web-based materials giving details about the policy, the academic and policy analysis and commentary anticipating and following the policy, and research data, both qualitative and quantitative, generated in the field through attempts to evaluate the policy and its context.

Students must choose 20 credits from the suite of optional modules offered by the school, or from the DTP’s Advanced Training modules.

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Thursday 11 July 2024.

Due to timetabling availability, there may be restrictions on some module combinations.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Lectures

Modules are taught by the school and the Nottingham ERSC Doctoral Training Centre, and are delivered as seminars. Seminars may include small-group discussions and presentations, based on preliminary reading.

All modules, whatever the format of the teaching, involve discussion of key issues and problems, and analysis of case study material. 

How you will be assessed

  • Essay
  • Group project
  • Presentation
  • Dissertation
  • Coursework

Each module is individually assessed, giving you the opportunity to demonstrate a range of research skills including:

  • critical analysis
  • report writing
  • group work
  • verbal presentations
  • project development and completion

Contact time and study hours

A typical 20-credit module assumes roughly 200 hours of taught and independent study. Taught sessions will include a mix of lectures, seminars, and workshops. 

In addition to the taught seminars, you will also have the opportunity for individual discussions with your personal tutor and/or the programme director, as well as your dissertation supervisor.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2025 entry.

Undergraduate degree2:1 (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject in the arts, humanities, or social sciences


Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply


Qualification MA
Home / UK £11,250
International £24,300

Additional information for international students

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you may be asked to complete a fee status questionnaire and your answers will be assessed using guidance issued by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) .

These fees are for full-time study. If you are studying part-time, you will be charged a proportion of this fee each year (subject to inflation).

Additional costs

All students will need at least one device to approve security access requests via Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). We also recommend students have a suitable laptop to work both on and off-campus. For more information, please check the equipment advice.

As a student on this course, you should factor some additional costs into your budget, alongside your tuition fees and living expenses.

You should be able to access most of the books you'll need through our libraries, though you may wish to purchase your own copies or more specific titles.


This course forms the '1' component of a 1+3 ESRC-funded scholarship with the Midlands Graduate School. It will equip you with the research methods training needed to apply for +3 study on the social policy and social work pathway.

There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

We also offer a range of international masters scholarships for high-achieving international scholars who can put their Nottingham degree to great use in their careers.

Check our guide to find out more about funding your postgraduate degree.

Postgraduate funding


We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

Each year 1,100 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

International students who complete an eligible degree programme in the UK on a student visa can apply to stay and work in the UK after their course under the Graduate immigration route. Eligible courses at the University of Nottingham include bachelors, masters and research degrees, and PGCE courses.

Graduate destinations

This course provides an excellent route into further academic study and many of our students go on to complete doctoral research before pursuing an academic career.

It will also prepare you for research and managerial roles in private, public, and third sector organisations, non-governmental organisations, academia, the civil service and journalism.

Career progression

89.3% of postgraduates from the School of Sociology and Social Policy secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation. The average annual salary for these graduates was £28,886.

HESA Graduate Outcomes 2019/20 data published in 2022. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology. The average annual salary is based on graduates working full-time within the UK.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates
" Our programme, taught by a diverse group of experts, with lived experience from around the world, provides students with a broader student experience that equips them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed either in research careers or doctoral degree in a globalised world. "
Dr Roda Madziva, Programme Convener, MA in Social Science Research

Related courses

This content was last updated on Thursday 11 July 2024. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.