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

Masters by Dissertation (MSD)

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. If you are progressing satisfactorily you can choose to change to a PhD in your second year.


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 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

“Directed evolution of metalloenzymes for biofuel production”, Dr Jonathan Worrall

“Sequence alignment and homology modelling in the twilight zone”, Prof Chris Reynolds

“Development of SMALP technology for the purification of fully functional GPCRs”, Dr Phil Reeves

"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

Genomics and computational biology group

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

"Nucleosome repositioning in cancer", Dr Vladimir Teif

“Dissecting the role of architectural proteins in 3D chromatin organisation in Drosophila”, Dr Radu Zabet

“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

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

“Coupling photosynthesis and stomatal behaviour using transgenics” – Prof Tracy Lawson, Prof Christine Raines

“Does electron transport rate influence induction of Calvin cycle enzymes?” – Prof Tracy Lawson, Prof Christine Raines

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

“Historical coral community analyses of Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA): how have times changed?”, Dr Michelle Taylor (Essex), Dominic Andradi-Brown (WWF), Catherine Head (Oxford)

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

"Stylasteridae habitat suitability modelling", Dr Michelle Taylor.

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
Student and academic working at a board together
Postgraduate research opportunities

Thinking about postgraduate research at Essex? We advertise studentships and funded opportunities throughout the year.

View our latest opportunities
Get in touch
Emma Revill Graduate Administrator