School of Life 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. Many of our research degrees are offered on a part-time basis so you can fit your research around other commitments.

Explore our postgraduate research degrees
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

Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD)

The Master of Science 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.

Explore our MSD degrees


An MPhil involves a minimum of two years of full-time research or four years part-time followed by the production of a thesis. If you are progressing satisfactorily you can choose to change to a PhD in your second year.

Explore our MPhil degrees


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.

Explore our PhD options

Part-time options

A research degree can be a significant commitment, particularly if you are thinking of a PhD. For many this can be a significant barrier to undertaking further study.

All of our research degrees can be undertaken on a part-time basis, in which the standard time for study is doubled. An MSD is two years, an MPhil is four years, and a PhD is six years.

While this may seem like a greater commitment than a full-time course, it means that you have greater scope to fit your research around other life commitments, such as caring responsibilities or employment.

Explore our part-time research degrees

Master of Science (MSD) in the School of Life Sciences

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

These are one-year postgraduate degrees that typically start in October but other start times can be negotiated with the project supervisor(s) (overseas applicants should allow additional time for visa processing). These opportunities do not come with any funding. 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.

Each of these opportunities falls under one of our research groups.

Protein structure and mechanisms of disease group

"Serial crystallography of industrially important metalloenzymes using synchrotron and XFEL diffraction"”, Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange, Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Targeting antibiotic resistance provided by efflux pumps in Gram negative bacteria", Dr Vassiliy Bavro

"Structural and Functional Analysis of a Novel Cancer target", Dr Mike Hough, Dr Greg Brooke, Dr Richard Strange

"Structural Movies of Enzyme Function: X-ray driven reactivity in protein micro crystals", Dr Mike Hough, Dr Richard Strange

"Dissecting the role of cell polarity regulation in breast cancer", Dr Metodi Metodiev

"Role of ZFP36L1 in immune cell function and cancer", Dr Raj Thaker

"Molecular signaling pathways in immune cells", Dr Raj Thaker

"Novel copper proteins in ammonia oxidising archaea and their role in production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide", Dr Mike Hough, Dr Jonathan Worrall and Dr Corinne Whitby

"Structure and Function of cytochrome P460 containing proteins involved in the nitrogen cycle in methanotrophic bacteria: contributions to release of NO and N2O", Dr Mike Hough

"Back to the future - Ancestral reconstruction of enzymes for biofuel production", Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Copper storage in infectious diseases", Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Recombinant expression of human ACE-2:  the cellular receptor of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19", Dr Phil Reeves and Dr Mike Hough

"Understanding the molecular defects arising from mutations in human rhodopsin responsible for Retinitis Pigmentosa", Dr Phil Reeves

Genomics and computational biology group

"Modelling epigenetic regulation in cell differentiation and cancer", Dr Vladimir Teif

"Nucleosome repositioning in cancer", Dr Vladimir Teif

"Analysis how cellular metabolism coordinates gene expression using single cell transcriptomics",  Dr Patrick Varga Weisz

"How does the microbiome communicate with the host genome in the gut?", Dr Patrick Varga Weisz

"Animal models of Eph/ephrin signalling in human pancreatic cancer for drug screening", Dr Joaquín de Navascués

"Modelling radiotherapy chronic injury in Drosophila", Dr Joaquín de Navascués

"Transcriptional control of Intestinal Stem Cell regulation", Dr Joaquín de Navascués

"Epigenetic modifiers and microbiome regulation in the intestine of Drosophila", Dr Joaquín de Navascués and Dr Patrick Varga Weisz

"Transcriptional networks in ageing and neurodegeneration", Dr Charalampos (Babis) Rallis

"The impact of cytoarchitecture in cellular physiology and ageing", Dr Charalampos (Babis) Rallis

"Liquid biopsy: developing new diagnostic medical assays based on cell-free DNA", Dr Vladimir Teif

"Comparative sequence analysis of the pig sex chromosomes", Dr Ben Skinner

Plant productivity group

"Natural variation of heat shock transcription networks", Dr Uli Bechtold, Dr Radu Zabet

"Uncoupling leaf- and plant-level water use traits in Arabidopsis", Dr Uli Bechtold

"Improving photosynthesis by manipulating stomatal conductance", Prof Tracy Lawson

"Establishing single-walled carbon nanotubes for transient expression of biosensors in plants", Prof Phil Mullineaux and Dr Philippe Laissue.

"The role of the endoplasmic reticulum as a communication bridge between chloroplasts and the nucleus", Prof Phil Mullineaux and Dr Philippe Laissue.

"High-resolution imaging of biofilms and hot-spots in riverbed sediments", Dr Philippe Laissue, Dr Corinne Whitby, and Dr Boyd McKew

Ecology and environmental biology group

"The effect of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles on plant and soil microbial processes", Dr Corinne Whitby and Prof Ian Colbeck

"Effect of oxidative stress on the biochemistry of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP)-lyase enzymes in tropical reef organisms", Dr Michael Steinke, Dr Mike Hough, Dr Jonathan Worrall

"Pollution mitigation by microbes in urban soils", Dr Terry McGenity, Dr Corinne Whitby

"Understanding how microbes survive inside salt", Dr Terry McGenity

"Biogenic gases from extremely saline environments – how can they inform us about life elsewhere in the Solar System", Dr Michael Steinke, Dr Terry McGenity

"Impacts of thermal adaptation and warming on predator-prey interactions", Dr Eoin O'Gorman

"Effect of microplastics on microbial communities and their processes in the environment", Dr Corinne Whitby and Dr Philippe Laissue

"Impacts of conventional and biodegradable plastics on community structure and biogeochemical cycling", Dr Eoin O'Gorman, Dr Boyd McKew, Dr Corinne Whitby, Prof Terry McGenity.

"The Role of Phosphorus in RIverbed Nitrogen Cycling", Dr Boyd McKew, Dr Corinne Whitby, and Dr Philippe Laissue

"High-resolution imaging of biofilms and hot-spots in riverbed sediments", Dr Philippe Laissue, Dr Corinne Whitby, and Dr Boyd McKew

"Larval settlement and adhesion of the biofouling hydrozoan, Clytia hemisphaerica", Dr Nick Aldred

"Trophic control of ecosystems: top predator effects on microbial-driven carbon and nitrogen cycles in northern boreal forest lakes", Dr Tom Cameron, Dr Natalie Hicks, Dr Corinne Whitby.

"Investigating if natural drinking water biofilms (DWB) have the potential to degrade unwanted organic micro-pollutants (e.g. plasticizers, phenols, pesticides etc) from our drinking water", Dr Corinne Whitby, in collaboration with Dr Torben Lund Skovhus, and Dr Ditte Andreasen Søborg (VIA University College and Aarhus Water, Denmark).

"Demographics and behaviour in wild birds – research masters in field ornithology with a range of options to work on hirundines, corn buntings, nightingale or waterfowl", Dr Tom Cameron, Dr Kim Wallis (Essex & Suffolk Water) & Dr Chas Holt (BTO)

"Shifting ecological and trophic status in managed freshwater reservoirs in SE England", Dr Tom Cameron, and Dr Kim Wallis (Essex & Suffolk Water)

"Do functional traits of restored shellfish habitats lead to ecosystem services", Dr Tom Cameron and Dr Corinne Whitby, in collaboration with Zoological Society London

"Modelling the global peaks of microbial biodiversity", Prof Alex Dumbrell and Dr Dave Clark

"Mining microbial metagenomes to understand environmental change", Prof Alex Dumbrell and Dr Rob Ferguson

"Revealing the  environmental drivers of antimicrobial resistance hidden in metagenome data", Dr Rob Ferguson and Prof Alex Dumbrell

"Geodiversity-biodiversity relationships in microbial communities", Dr Dave Clark and Prof Alex Dumbrell

"Modeling the New Zealand strontium isoscape to track fish migrations and responses to environmental change", Dr Anna Sturrock

"Anthropogenic influences on salmon phenotype and genotype in California", Dr Anna Sturrock

"Recombinant production of a barnacle lysyl oxidase for development of bio-inspired adhesives", Dr Nick Aldred and Dr Phil Reeves

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, with a portion set aside for conference attendance costs.

This is supplemented with tailored training, delivered by the School of Life Sciences. All new PhD research students 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