School of Life Sciences

Masters study

Gloved hands with a bottle of liquid in a lab

Transforming our understanding of the living world

As our world faces increasing threats, the life sciences have grown ever more important. Understanding the impact of climate change on our ocean, creating diagnostic tools and treatments for novel viruses, or developing crops that will withstand drought, the life sciences impact our lives more than many people realise.

The threat that these issues pose to our world means that there is a real need across the globe for trained biologists who understand the problems our world is facing. From advising a national government on how to conserve marine environments in the face of climate change, to carrying out laboratory research for a pharmaceutical company, the life sciences have much to offer in the 21st century.

Undertaking a Masters degree can help you build up your skillset and develop expertise in an area of interest. It shows your commitment to your professional development, and builds upon the experience gained in your undergraduate degree.

Whether you’re a recent graduate who has a particular career path in mind, or an experienced professional looking for something different, a Master of Science degree will further develop your skills and enhance your knowledge.

Explore our Masters courses
Why choose us?
  • Top 400 for Life Sciences in THE World University Rankings by Subject 2024.
  • Showcase your expertise through a research project or a work-based placement.
  • We offer scholarships and bursaries to talented postgraduates, ranging from research council studentships and University of Essex scholarships to awards funded by charities and other external organisations.

What can you study?

What can we offer you?

Specialist facilities

We have a range of dedicated specialist laboratories and facilities that are available for our Masters students to use in their taught modules or to work on their research project.

As one of our Masters degree students you will gain hands-on experience in these dedicated life sciences labs. You will use the same types of facilities that you will find in private and public sector organisations, making you familiar with tools and techniques that you will use in an advanced career.

Your studies are supported by wider University facilities such as the Albert Sloman Library, which offers free access to textbooks and academic papers as well as quiet workspaces, and a selection of PC labs across campus, several of which are open 24 hours a day.

Research project or work-based placement

As part of your MSc studies you will carry out a research project with the assistance of an academic supervisor. You will research the topic and create a proposal, devise and carry out your own experiments in our labs or during fieldwork in the UK or abroad, and write up your findings in a report.

Alternatively, you may be able to undertake a work-based learning project which will include 8 to 12 weeks working in a placement with a relevant organisation (dependent on the availability of placements).

Whichever option you choose you will enhance the experience in independent research that you gained during your undergraduate degree.

Leading research

Our research focuses on some of the key areas of concern for the 21st century. Researchers in our School are working on the causes of and treatments for several cancers, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and treatments for Covid-19, while our marine biologists are studying the impact of climate change on tropical reefs, and working on conservation projects with high impact in the UK.

Our work is often interdisciplinary, with strong links across the University including the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, and the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science.

We feed our research into our teaching, so you will learn the latest scientific theories and techniques straight from the people developing them.

Part of our community

Our School is a community of staff and students from a diverse range of countries and backgrounds. Our extensive interests, from the causes of cancer to the coral reefs of Indonesia, create a multi-disciplinary environment in which staff and students work closely with each other.

As a member of our postgraduate community, you will join people who share your passion for the life sciences, and who are also taking the next steps in advanced learning and research. You will be supported by our expert staff, from academics and the technical team, through to our professional services colleagues.

Our Students’ Union contains a broad collection of societies, who welcome postgraduates among their membership. There are over forty cultural societies, as well as societies such as the Women in STEM society, the Life Sciences society, and activities from Green Thumbs to Essex Entrepreneurs.

Expert staff

Your modules and research project will be taught and supervised by our academic staff, whose expertise in their specialist fields feeds directly into our courses. Our academics carry out research, publish in a range of high-impact journals, and supervise the next generation of researchers as they progress through their research degree.

Some of our modules may include expert guest speakers from relevant organisations, such as hospitals and research institutions. This gives you access to expertise beyond the University and allows insight into areas such as private sector or NHS-based work. Our School also runs a regular research seminar series with external academics presenting their latest research, which all members of our School are invited to attend.

Preparing for your future

We understand that your Masters degree is a significant investment in your future career. Our modules are designed to help you develop the advanced practical and research skills needed in your chosen field, while our specialist facilities give you hands-on, practical experience in laboratory or field-based research.

Along with the teaching in our School, you will also have access to support from the University’s Student Development team. Throughout the year they offer a variety of events for postgraduate students. This can include support clinics for your CV or job interview skills, careers fairs, and specialist sessions that focus on aspects such as data handling or advanced research skills.

Learn more about Life Sciences careers

Enhanced skills

Undertaking a Masters degree is an excellent way to further develop the skills you learned at Undergraduate level and specialise in a particular area of interest. Many Masters students are looking to upskill in order to progress up the career ladder, or are looking to change direction and focus on a new specialism.

A Masters degree in your chosen field will help you enhance your research expertise by gaining further experience in experimental design, problem solving and the analysis and interpretation of large datasets.

Advanced specialised skills that you learn as part of a Masters degree include:

  • Research project development – You will learn the different stages of advanced research project development. Beginning with identifying and formulating your hypothesis, you will progress to designing and carrying out experiments, and collating and analysing results.
  • Data analysis – You will learn how to analyse a range of datasets. Depending on your degree you may learn the programming language R and how to apply it to data, or you may gain experience in using programmes such as ArcGIS.
  • Evaluation and feedback – You will learn how to critically evaluate and review both your own research and that of others. This may be through literature reviews, or through identifying and evaluating past examples of ideas being translated into a commercial product or process.

As well as improving your technical skills you will enhance transferable skills such as:

  • Communication skills – You will learn how to convey research to a diverse range of audiences, from fellow researchers to members of the public. You will tailor your communications appropriately using techniques such as oral or poster presentations or scientific reports.
  • Project management – You will gain an understanding in how to manage complex projects with competing deadlines, and how to manage problems that may cause delays.
  • Independent learning – While a Masters degree involves academic supervision, you will also be expected to manage your own learning independently. This may involve identifying areas of personal development and seeking ways to upskill further, or enhancing your knowledge through further reading around your chosen subject.

When you finish your postgraduate degree, you will be ready to lead on projects and research in an advanced scientific setting. The skills you will learn at Masters level will also be of use if you are thinking of undertaking a PhD.

Specialist modules

Depending on the degree you take you will be taught specialist modules that are designed to keep you up to date with the latest work in your area of study, or to help you find a job in your field of interest after you graduate.

Examples include Tropical Marine Resources, and Gene Technology and Synthetic Biology, as well as employability modules such as Professional Skills and the Business of Biosciences, and Professional Skills in Tropical Marine Biology.

These modules are aligned with the research strengths of our School. Our academics carry out research in these areas, which feeds into our teaching. You will learn about the latest discoveries and theories from the very people working on them.

Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD)

If you are thinking of postgraduate study, but aren’t sure if a taught degree is for you, then a Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) could be a suitable option.

This one year postgraduate research degree is a shorter version of a PhD. With the help of a suitable supervisor from our School, you will work on your chosen research project in our labs. Your results will be written up in a final report, which you will then discuss in an oral exam known as a viva.

An MSD can be a great option if you’re thinking of moving on to a PhD. Alternatively if you’re thinking of a research career outside of academia, then this can help you brush up your skills and show potential employers what you can do.

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A head and shoulders shot of William McCallam, with an out of focus building in the background.
Blog: How academic research plays a role in the work of Greenpeace

Will McCallum, Head of the Greenpeace Ocean Campaigns, joined the School of Life Sciences to discuss the importance of academic research in the charity's work, from providing inspiration to evidence for their campaigns.

Read this blog post
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