School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering

Research Degrees

Female student working with computers

A creative powerhouse

Governments, technology companies and the Third Sector are increasingly looking for candidates with advanced specialist skills in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and privacy, and communications technology. Our research is changing people’s lives and underpins tomorrow’s must-have technologies. Research and development has to stay one step ahead of the industry, so our curriculum is constantly evolving.

Our degrees are about more than research. You will gain experience in project management and communication, as well as support to develop your numerical and data analysis skills. During your time with us you will have opportunities to present your research to your peers, both inside and outside our School, and deliver papers at international conferences. The University operates a unique professional development scheme, Proficio, which includes funding for conference fees and expenses.

Explore our postgraduate research degrees
Why choose our School?
  • We are 6th in UK for research power in computer science (Times Higher Education research power measure, REF 2021)
  • As a research student you'll have access to our excellent on-campus facilities, including our recently refurbished brain-computer interfaces and neural engineering laboratory.
  • Opportunities to enhance other skills through Proficio funding for professional development, or paid roles as Graduate Laboratory Assistants.

Research degrees

At Essex we offer several research degree types, from a one year Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) through to a full PhD.

Whatever path you choose you will finish your degree by writing a thesis on your chosen research area with supervision from at least one our academics. You will then discuss your work and conclusions at a viva, an oral exam involving three academics (including an external academic from another university, with expertise in your field).

Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD)

A Master of Science by Dissertation (also known as an MSc by Dissertation or MSD) is a one year postgraduate research degree. It is an ideal option for anyone who wants to improve their research skills but may not want to commit to the three years of a PhD.

If your MSD is progressing well then you can potentially "upgrade" it to a PhD, in agreement with your supervisor and the department.

View our MSD degrees


An MPhil is a two year research degree, in which you will carry out research in a particular topic, write up your results, and present them in an oral exam known as a "viva".

If your MPhil is progressing well then you may be able to carry on your research for a PhD, in agreement with your supervisor and the department.

Explore our MPhil degrees


A PhD can take between three and six years to complete, depending if you are carrying out your research on a full time or part time basis. PhD students are enrolled on an MPhil pathway, progressing to a PhD in their second year. If you find that a PhD is unsuitable then you can continue your research but finish in your second year, leaving with an MPhil qualification.

Browse our PhD degrees

Part-time options

In our School we know that a full time research degree may not be for everyone. Family and caring responsibilities, or a need to maintain some hours at your current job, mean that taking on a full-time degree is almost impossible for some people.

As a result we offer many of our research degrees as part-time options. While this means you will take longer to complete your research, it can also give you more flexibility to fit it in around other commitments in your life.

You can view our part-time MSDs or part-time PhDs, or email our office ( if you have any queries.

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Centre for Computational Finance and Economic Agents

Get a head start in financial services with our specialist postgraduate courses in computational finance. As an interdisciplinary Centre we bring together leading academics in the field from our University's departments of economics, computer science and business.

Complete your research with CCFEA

What's next?

Part of the process for a research degree includes deciding on a topic to research (which will influence your thesis title), and finding an academic to supervise you.

Research topic

We offer postgraduate research courses spanning computer science, computational finance, and engineering disciplines.

Within these disciplines we have specialities within broad areas such as artificial intelligence, network systems and security, data science and analytics, robotics and mechatronic systems, and machine learning.

If you have an idea of an area of computer science or engineering that you would like to carry out research in, then you can find out more about individual research interests and specialisms in our School  by viewing our research groups, or by browsing our academic profiles.

Finding a supervisor

If you're not sure who to ask to supervise you then you can view our academic profiles to find out more about our specialist areas of research. Contact details for academics are listed on their profiles so you can make an informal enquiry by email.

However, you do not have to choose a supervisor before you apply. If you indicate your research topic or area of interest on your application form then we can match you with a suitable project supervisor. You can also contact our office ( and our Graduate Administrator ( can put you in touch with potential supervisors as well as help with your application, visa and general enquiries.

Making your application

Applications for research degrees are made through our online portal.

You will need some supporting information and documents as part of the application process. If you have all this information lined up and ready to go then it s should only take around 20 minutes for you to complete your application.

Research groups

Research in our department is centred around our research groups.

As one of our postgraduate research students you will be a member of one of these groups, giving you the benefit of combined expertise from a collection of academics working in your specialist field of interest.

What can we offer you?

Undertaking a research degree is an investment in your future. To help with this the School and University have various avenues of support for our postgraduate research students that help you get the best out of your time with us.


Students in our School receive funding from a range of sources and bodies around the world. This includes competitive scholarships from EPSRC; University postgraduate scholarships and Faculty of Science interdisciplinary studentships; research grants; or overseas national level government scholarships.


All Essex research students qualify for our professional development fund Proficio. Through this scheme our postgraduate research students have access to between £1000 (MSD) and £2500 (PhD) of funding for professional development and conference attendance.

Professional development

Professional development funding means that you can develop new skills or enhance ones you've gained from your previous university experience. Many of these courses are offered by the university and cover important areas such as public engagement, impact, and specialist IT tools and software.

Additionally you may apply to use some of your funding towards an external course, where the university does not offer an equivalent option.

Conference attendance

Conferences are an important part of your postgraduate research experience. Through them you can present your research (by presenting your papers or through poster sessions), meet experts in your field from around the world, and start to develop a network of contacts in your specialist research area.

At Essex we know that conferences can be expensive, making them difficult for some students to attend. As a result, a portion of your Proficio funding is ring-fenced for conference attendance costs, and a small amount of the money for professional services training can also be used for conferences if needed.

Active participation in research activities

Research students are actively involved in the School’s activities, such as contributing to and participating in seminars and workshops and, where appropriate, in scholarly activities such as reviewing for conferences and journals.

Throughout the year we run a School research seminar series, where an invited speaker presents their latest work in their field of expertise. Along with external speakers, we also encourage our PhD students to put themselves forward to present at these seminars. The seminar audience includes Undergraduate students, so research students gain experience in presenting their research to a diverse audience beyond their peers.

Facilities and workspace

All research students are invited to become a member of one of our research groups, depending on the subject they are researching. As a group member they will have access to a range of laboratories and equipment, which they will need to carry out their work. They can be supported in the labs by academics, or by a member of our technical team.

Every research student is provided with a desk space and a state-of-the-art new personal computer. This means that all students, regardless of background, have access to a dedicated quiet workspace and the technology they need to proceed with their work.

Regular supervision

All research students have a supervisor who is a member of our School’s academic staff, and who will have expertise in the area the student is studying.

Those studying an interdisciplinary research area may be jointly supervised by another expert in our School or in the wider University, depending on the area of research. We have close working relationships with colleagues across our institution, particularly with the Department of Psychology, School of Life Sciences, and School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science. This means that you can benefit from additional expertise, enriching your own research and the impact of your work.

Twice a year we hold a Supervisory Board meeting for students, with their supervisor and two other academics in the School. This allows us to check a students research is progressing as expected, identify any issues, and offer extra support for those who may be struggling.

Advanced training

Before you start your research degree, your supervisor will work with you to identify any areas that you may have struggled with at Undergraduate or Masters level, and put in a plan of action to help you develop your knowledge. This may include attending a module or two from a relevant Masters course, or finding a professional development course that may help.

Along with access to Proficio, which helps pay for professional development courses run by the University, our School offers training in discipline-specific skills through advanced subject courses. This is particularly help for students who may not have studied computer science at Undergraduate level (such as a Mathematics graduate).

Students can also undertake some teaching through Graduate Laboratory Assistant (GLA) or Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) roles. These are paid roles, in which you will assist academics in our School with Undergraduate or Masters degree teaching, such as running seminars or joining in with lab supervision.

Conference experience

In our School we know that impactful research cannot happen in isolation. We actively encourage and support our research students to engage with their peers within our School, and in other universities across the world.

A major success of our School has been the Computer Science and Electronic Engineering Conference (CEEC). Sine 2009 this annual conference has been led and organised by our research students, with support from the School.

CEEC has grown from an internal event to an international conference, and is the only one of its kind in the UK that is run by research students with the proceedings published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It attracts increasing numbers of international submissions and presentations; in 2019, we had 100 delegates from 20 countries coming from 5 continents with over 40% of the submitted papers from non-UK based authors.

The School supports the conference by inviting world-leading researchers as keynote speakers. CEEC provides great training to research leaders of tomorrow on how to review papers and, how to organise an international conference. This includes everything from call for papers to tutorials organisation, special sessions, keynote speakers to having a strong balance between a strong technical programme and a great social programme allowing good room for social networking between students and well-established researchers from all over the world.

Beyond academia

Research students do not necessarily intend to stay in academia once they have finished their thesis.

The University Research and Enterprise Office (REO) offers additional services to research students, including a postgraduate consultancy service that allows students to gain or extend engagement with employers. The University also has a University Enterprise Zone, where students have access to advice on important areas of business creation such as securing start-up funding and registering patents.

Additionally students can use their Proficio funding for professional development courses that have uses beyond a career in higher education. Good communication skills, project management, and specialist software experience are all important skills needed by employers in the public and private sectors, so our research students have plenty of options when it comes to their future.

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