Science for science’s sake
Pure sciences cover biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. This is different from applied sciences which would include studies in pharmaceutical sciences, computer sciences, industrial technology, and building and planning; disciplines that already have their applications mapped out before studies commence. Pure sciences also do not cover engineering fields, health sciences, dentistry or medical sciences. However, specialisations in pure sciences are not limiting in any aspect.
Picking a subject
Within the four pure sciences – biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics or statistics – lie an enormous assortment of subjects.
The following are some of the research areas available for study under pure sciences:
- aquatic biology
- environmental biology
- astronomy and atmospheric sciences
- energy studies
- medical physics
Mathematics / Statistics
- coding theory
- complex analysis
- computational intelligence
- functional analysis
- industrial statistics
Availability of subjects differs according to institution. In some cases, even if the specific research subject is not offered in the institution you want to attend, you may still be able to research that topic there if you are able to find a supervisor who is willing to take you on. This will require extra commitment and capacity for independent work on your part, however.
Picking a mode
There are three modes of study: research, coursework and mixed mode.
The research mode is usually deeply involved with innovation and breakthroughs, which require scholars of academic excellence and a passion for discovery. Research students will also need to have good analytical, reporting, communications and presentation skills.
This is because they will need to do a lot of literature reviews, tests and experiments, while analysing and discussing the results in well-written essays and citing credible sources in their dissertations. PhD programmes are only available in research mode.
Coursework is typically spread across two to six semesters depending on whether it’s taken full-time or part-time. In coursework mode, students need to attend syllabus-based classes and take exams as well as complete a research project.
In a mixed mode, about half of the total units or credits required to graduate (eg 20 out of 40 units) will be allocated to dissertation, giving it a much greater weight than a research project in coursework mode. The other half of the required units or credits will usually be earned through coursework-style assignments and exams.
The usual requirement for admission to a Master’s programme for pure sciences is a relevant bachelor’s degree, preferably with honours, in the same or a related subject. One or two years’ worth of relevant work experience is advantageous but often not necessary for pure science research courses.
To pursue a PhD you need a first class bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree in a relevant field. There is usually an English proficiency prerequisite, as classes and the thesis will probably be fully in English. For research-based components, students will need to pick an advisor/supervisor before or at the start of the programme
who will guide them in their academic research.
Master's: Two to six semesters (full-time), four to eight semesters (part-time)
PhD: Four to 10 semesters (full-time), six to 15 semesters (part-time)
At the end of your research period, you will need to produce your work in the form of a thesis or dissertation. The last leg of the race will see you having to defend your research in a presentation and Q&A session by a committee that will comprise PhD holders, supervisors of other departments and often experts in the field you studied in.
Although ‘the dissertation’ is usually portrayed as very stressful and similar to an interrogation, if you are thoroughly prepared and can explain your research well, it is more like a formality to complete your postgraduate studies.