School of Biological Sciences

Research Degrees

Researcher in greenhouse labs

Join a thriving research community

Our School provides a stimulating environment for research training and offers opportunities to take up postgraduate studies through Masters by Dissertation (MSD), MPhil and PhD research programmes.

 A research degree is your opportunity to examine a specific topic in detail while working alongside our academic experts as part of our department’s research team.

Our research covers a wide range of areas, from the genome to communities and ecosystems, allowing the opportunity for developing novel ideas and inter-disciplinary projects. Our research is supported by modern, well-equipped facilities managed by trained technicians and research officers.

We offer a number of exciting opportunities for research projects towards a Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD), titles can be viewed below. We also offer fully funded PhD studentships throughout the year, with projects ranging across the spectrum of our research expertise.

Self-funded students and those with alternative funding are also welcome to apply and you can browse our research and academic staff pages to identify an area of interest or potential supervisor. 

Why choose us?
  • Join our lively, friendly and supportive research environment, working in our state-of-the-art labs
  • The University offers Proficio, an innovative professional development scheme for doctoral students, unique to the University of Essex
  • Two-thirds of our research was rated as being 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' (REF 2014)

Our Research Degrees

Masters by Dissertation

The MSc by dissertation (MSD) involves a minimum of one year of full-time research or two years part time followed by production of a dissertation. Students enrolled on an MSD programme can upgrade to an MPhil or PhD subject to satisfactory progress.


An MPhil involves a minimum of two years of full-time research or four years part-time followed by the production of a thesis.


A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree consists of a three year (full-time) or six year (part-time) programme followed by the production of a doctoral thesis. All PhD students are initially registered as MPhil/PhD students and are transferred to a PhD degree in the first half of the second year, subject to satisfactory progress.

Master of Science (MSD) in Biological Sciences

We are providing exciting opportunities for research projects, towards a Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) in Biological Sciences.

These are one-year postgraduate degrees that typically start in October but other start times can be negotiated with the project supervisor(s). Further information on fees and funding is available here. To start the process, email your CV to the supervisors directly or email the postgraduate administrator Ms Emma Revill ( to suggest another project within the area of interest of one of our groups or members of staff. Details of our current opportunities are listed below.


Current MSD Research Opportunities

Genomics and Computational Biology Group

Title: Natural variation of heat shock transcription networks

Supervisor(s): Dr Uli Bechtold, Dr Radu Zabet



Title: Dissecting the role of architectural proteins in 3D chromatin organisation in Drosophila

Supervisor(s): Radu Zabet



Title: Deciphering the regulatory map of the human genome from single cell expression data by machine learning

Supervisor(s): Radu Zabet (BS) and Giovanni Stracquadanio (CSEE)



Title: Nucleosome repositioning in cancer

Supervisor: Dr Vladimir Teif



For more information see our Genomics and Computational Biology Group page.


Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group

Title: Understanding how microbes survive inside salt

Supervisor(s): Dr Terry McGenity



Title: Biogenic gases from extremely saline environments – how can they inform us about life elsewhere in the Solar System?

Supervisor(s): Dr Terry McGenity and Dr Michael Steinke



Title: Searching for life on Mars with gas fingerprinting

Supervisor(s): Dr Michael Steinke and Dr Terry McGenity 



Title: Historical coral community analyses of Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA): how have times changed?

Supervisors: Dr Michelle Taylor (Essex), Dominic Andradi-Brown (WWF), Catherine Head (Oxford)



Title: The effect of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles on plant and soil microbial processes

Supervisor(s): Dr Corinne Whitby and Prof. Ian Colbeck



Title: Identification of the enzyme that oxidises hydroxylamine in archaea

Supervisor(s): Dr Corinne Whitby, Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange 


For more information see our Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group page. 

Protein Structure and Function Group

Title: Serial crystallography of industrially important metalloenzymes using synchrotron and XFEL diffraction

Supervisor(s): Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange, Dr Jonathan Worrall 



Title: Identification of the enzyme that oxidises hydroxylamine in archaea

Supervisor(s): Dr Corinne Whitby, Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange 



Title: Directed evolution of metalloenzymes for biofuel production

Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Worrall



Title: Sequence alignment and homology modelling in the twilight zone

Supervisor: Prof Chris Reynolds



Title: Around the clock: Understanding ancestral mechanisms conserved between animal and plant circadian systems

Supervisor(s): Dr Matt Jones, Dr. Mike Hough



For more information see our Protein Structure and Function Group page

Plant Productivity Group

Title: Natural variation of heat shock transcription networks 

Supervisor(s): Dr Uli Bechtold, Dr Radu Zabet



Title: Uncoupling leaf- and plant-level water use traits in Arabidopsis

Supervisor(s): Dr Uli Bechtold



Title: Like Clockwork: Demonstrating the role of biological clocks in stomatal responses

Supervisor(s): Prof. Tracy Lawson, Dr Matt Jones



Title: Understanding how drought stress affects circadian rhythms

Supervisor(s): Dr Matt Jones



For more information please see our Plant Productivity Group page. 

So, what do we have to offer?

Research environment

As one of the largest schools at our University, we offer a lively, friendly and supportive environment. A dedicated study room allows all our postgraduate students to have access to a desk and a computer outside of the research laboratories.

This provides a focal point for our postgraduates, facilitating reading and writing as well as good communication and a sense of community. As a postgraduate research student, you’re expected to attend and contribute to School and research group seminars.

A Graduate Forum, organised by our graduate students, is held each September where students present their research to the School. All of our students are encouraged, and funded, to attend national and international conferences. During the later stages of your PhD, you are expected to present your work at such conferences.

Our School is committed to promoting a positive and inclusive environment for our community of students and staff and holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Departmental Award in recognition of this.

Leading research

In the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014), two-thirds of our research was rated as being of 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' quality.

We receive funding for research from the UK government, medical charities and the European Union (EU).

Our strong focus on research means you are taught by some of the best academics in your chosen subject. They are passionate about what they do and are driven to help you succeed.

Preparing for your future

A comprehensive training programme is offered to all our postgraduate research students.

The University offers Proficio, an innovative professional development scheme for postgraduate research students, unique to the University of Essex. Proficio provides funding to spend on a variety of courses, from research skills to personal development and career management.

This is supplemented with tailored training, delivered by the School of Biological Sciences. All new research postgraduates have the opportunity to teach on our undergraduate courses as paid Graduate Laboratory Assistants to gain teaching and supervisory skills.

“I loved my PhD in tropical marine biology at Essex, which gave me a chance to develop really independent thinking and explore a world I was truly passionate about. I now apply the writing and communication skills I gained as a Government scientist, informing and influencing policymaking to improve the environment.”
Dr Julius Piercy PhD Marine Biology, 2011-2015
A sample being held up to the light in a lab
Our research

Our research covers the whole spectrum of biology – from the cell right through to communities and ecosystems. Two-thirds of our research was rated as 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' (REF 2014)

See more
Get in touch
Emma Revill Graduate Administrator