I've had another email from the lecturer at Imperial - he is concerned that I haven't taken more of the Logic, Language and Computation modules, and thinks I should delay my PhD application until I've established myself with my MSc. The reason I haven't done any of the relevant modules is that I can't - they're not available in the MSc in Advanced Computing, only in the MSc in Agents, Logic and Computation, and the MSc in Natural Language Processing.
The reason I'm not doing one of those MSc courses comes back to my 2:2. I figured that after I'd been rejected by Imperial twice for their MSc course, the only advantage I had was my work experience (which Kings take into account, but Imperial doesn't). However, my experience was more relevant to the Advanced Computing course (algorithms etc.) than the NLP course. I could have applied for both, but the FAQ explicitly says "The programmes cater for different areas of Computer Science. Candidates with a focussed attitude towards the individual programme are preferred." So, it was a calculated risk - I figured that successfully applying for a less relevant MSc was better than unsuccessfully applying for a more relevant MSc.
Unfortunately, Imperial and Sussex are both unhappy about my lack of NLP experience when I've applied for PhD places, so it seems likely that I'll get the same problem wherever else I apply. This then means that I may need to do another MSc that's more relevant before I can do a PhD. So, I'll use this year's MSc to improve my undergraduate qualification, to actually get onto the NLP course, then use that to get me into a research degree. But it does feel like I'm going round in circles. Whatever happens, I think I need to take a year out, so that I can reapply early in the academic year, with an actual MSc qualification behind me. Also, if I can't get funding, then I'll need to save up some more money to cover the costs of a second MSc course.
So, the current plan is looking like this:
2002-2003 - MSc in Advanced Computing at Kings
2003-2004 - year out, saving money
2004-2005 - MSc related to NLP, somewhere
2005-2008 - PhD
by which time I'll be 34 years old.
I'll broaden my search a bit next year, but I think it will be pretty much the same situation everywhere. There are a couple of interesting options at Sussex - they offer part-time MSc courses over 2 years, and a 4 year DPhil programme (first year taught, then 3 years of research).
Oh well, I'll basically put all that on hold now, and just focus on finishing off my current MSc, and hopefully getting a distinction. At least that way I can look intelligent, even if I still seem ignorant of a particular field.