Department of Psychology

Research Degrees

Professor Paul Hibbard stands on the right of the shot, his hands reaching out to adjust a VR headset that a person to the left of the photo is wearing.

Explore the science of the mind

Our department is home to an international community of academics and postgraduate researchers who are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what we know about psychology.

Our research and teaching employ a multi-modal approach to explore the brain's complex processes, unravelling how we interact with, experience and think about the world. Recognising the diversity of psychological development, emotional decision-making, and neuro-cognitive disorders, we foster a collaborative and interdisciplinary research environment.

As a postgraduate researcher, you'll benefit from our exceptional facilities, comprehensive support from award-winning academics and technicians, and a unique research training approach. Our commitment to postgraduate development is highlighted by our participation in the ESRC-funded South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), ensuring a supportive and enriching journey towards academic and professional excellence.

Explore our postgraduate research degrees
Why choose us?
  • We are 20th in the UK for research outputs in psychology (Grade Point Average, REF 2021)
  • We are a member of the South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) Doctoral Training Partnership.
  • We have excellent facilities, such as laboratories in our purpose built Centre for Brain Science.

Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD)

A Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) is a one-year research degree, sitting at the same level as an MSc.

Much like a PhD, you will carry out independent research on a topic of your choice with the support of an academic supervisor. At the end you will write up your research and defend it in an oral exam known as a viva.

An MSD is an ideal degree if you are considering a research degree without the longer commitment of a PhD. It doesn't preclude you from undertaking a PhD in the future, and if your research is progressing well you may be able to apply to move on to a PhD.

View our MSD Psychology


An MPhil is a two-year research degree, on a topic of your choice with a supervisor.

An MPhil is very similar to a PhD. You will still write up your work as a thesis and complete a viva at the end, but you will do this over two years instead of the minimum three years for a PhD.

PhD candidates are originally placed on an MPhil pathway when they join our university. In the second year you can move on to complete your PhD, or you may choose to remain on the MPhil track.

Find our our MPhils

PhD and Integrated PhDs

Your PhD will take a minimum of three years, during which you will carry out research into your chosen area of expertise. You will write up your work in a thesis and defend it in your viva.

When you start at Essex you will be registered on an MPhil pathway. If you are progressing as expected then in your second year you will progress into a PhD.

For those who want to develop their research skills prior to commencing a PhD, we offer two integrated PhD options: PhD Psychology and PhD Psychology with Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology

In your first year of your integrated PhD, you will complete the same modules as our Postgraduate Taught students, after which you then transition to a three-year PhD programme. Integrated PhDs can be an ideal option for those who want to brush up their skills before embarking on a research degree.

View our PhDs

Part-time options

A full-time research degree can be difficult for many people to fit around other life commitments such as work or caring responsibilities.

That's why we offer part-time options for many of our research degrees. You will have the same expert supervision, access to facilities, and opportunities as full-time postgraduate students, but with the flexibility to undertake your research around other things in your life.

See our part-time research degrees

Research themes

Dr Rick O'Gorman, wearing a black jumper and smiling at the camera.
"A research degree from our department offers you the chance to really dig into a research question, to become an expert in a topic and to develop research skills that can help advance your career, either in academia or outside. Drawing on our range of specialist labs and facilities including online experiment tools, cutting-edge equipment and software, you will be able to follow your curiosity to provide new findings for the wider scientific community. We work hard to make sure that students can achieve all this and more."
Dr Rick O'Gorman Director of Postgraduate Research

Next steps

Research topic

You should decide on whether you wish to pursue a MSc by dissertation or a PhD. Either way, you will need to have a topic that interests you. You might wish to browse our research themes, or look through our staff’s research interests.

It is useful to have some research questions in mind before you contact potential supervisors, but it is also okay to just have an interest in their area of research.

Find a supervisor

Once you have a topic (or maybe more than one), you need to identify one or more academics with whom you would like to work.

If there is more than one with whom you would like to work, that is fine, just contact each of them initially and see how it goes.

Some staff will want to know what you would like to do, others will have ideas they can offer you. But all staff will be happy to receive an inquiry.

If you are not sure who to contact, you can email for advice.

Research proposal

You will then need to develop a research proposal. Your chosen supervisor will work with you to develop this, so don't feel that you have to have this completed before contacting someone - in fact, many will want to work with you to develop it.

However, do allow time to work on this with a supervisor prior to applying as it is likely to be a months-long process.

Your proposal doesn't need to be too long - we do not have a minimum or maximum, but around 1500 words is usually sufficient to confirm a viable research plan.


Once you have supervision agreed and have developed a proposal, you can proceed to applying for a PhD.

It is helpful if you include an email or other document that confirms a supervisor has agreed to supervise you when you apply (you can upload this as a supporting document, along with your research proposal).

What do we have to offer?

Professional development support

Postgraduate research students at Essex develop a range of beneficial skills, whether you work as an academic or in another career.

You will be joining a department with a strong commitment to research, covering many areas of empirical psychology. The research community includes academic staff, research fellows, research officers and postgraduates engaged on many research projects.

As a postgraduate research student, you will have access to our innovative doctoral training scheme, Proficio.

Depending on your degree type, Proficio will give you access to funding ranging from £1500 to £2500 to use for a range of training courses at Essex and beyond to enhance your professional development. Many of these courses cover important skills such as public engagement, impact, and specialist IT tools and software.

You 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 department with undergraduate or Masters degree teaching, such as running seminars, helping with lab supervision or marking.

Excellent PhD completion rates

We have a fantastic completion rate in psychology at Essex. We achieve this by supporting you right the way through your degree, ensuring that you have a clear path to guide you.

We provide specific milestones for each stage of your research degree to ensure you know where you are at and how you are progressing.

We also work hard to ensure that there is an enthusiastic community of research students, offering each other peer support and outlets to just have some fun.


Our department is part of the ESRC-funded South East Network for Social Sciences (SENSS) Doctoral Training Partnership psychology pathway. This recognises not only our research, but the excellent research training that we offer students and early career researchers. It gives PhD applicants access to SeNSS-funded studentships, which are advertised through the year.

Students in our department also have received funding from a range of other sources and bodies around the world. This includes the University’s postgraduate scholarships and interdisciplinary studentships from the Faculty of Science and Health; research grants; or overseas national-level government scholarships. For Essex graduates, there is also a fee discount scheme.

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.

We also run an internal conference for our research students, giving you the opportunity to gain important skills in a familiar setting with a supportive audience.

Active participation in department activities

Our department carries out a range of activities throughout the year, such as seminars, workshops, or reviewing papers for conferences and journals. As a research student you will be actively involved in these activities, giving you experience of the wider scholarly activities that researchers regularly participate in.

Our departmental research seminar series is held throughout the academic year. For these seminars an invited speaker will present their latest work to an audience that can consist of undergraduate and postgraduate students from our department as well as academics and others from the wider university who are interested in the subject.

Along with inviting experts from other institutions, we also encourage our PhD students to put themselves forward to present at these seminars. This will help you gain experience in presenting your research to and answering questions from a diverse audience.

Other departments and schools also run similar research seminar series which you will be able to attend and help you build a professional network.

Facilities and workspace

All research students have access to a range of laboratories and equipment in our department which you may need to carry out your research. You are supported in the labs by academics and by our excellent technical team.

All PhD research students are currently provided with desk space and access to a 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.

Take a virtual tour of our department

Regular supervision

As a research student your lead supervisor will be an integral part of your time with our department. They will be a member of our academic staff who has expertise in the area which you are studying.

You will also have an additional supervisor who provides extra guidance and support. If your area of research is interdisciplinary then your additional supervisor may be based in a relevant department at the university, giving you further expertise and insight into your research and the impact of your work. We have close working relationships with colleagues across our institution, particularly with the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, the School of Health and Social Care, and the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences

Research students have regular progress reviews with a small panel made up of your supervisors and an independent chair. These reviews help ensure that your research is progressing, can identify issues you may be experiencing, and offer additional support for those who may be struggling.

Advanced training

Your degree is more than carrying out research. You will learn how to write peer-reviewed papers, how to assess the research of others, and how to present your work to audiences ranging from members of the public with no psychology background, to other academic experts in your field.

We know that it can be a jump from undergraduate or Masters level to a PhD. That’s why your supervisor will work with you before you join our department to identify any areas where you may need additional training to help bridge a skills gap. Your plan of action may include taking part in one or two modules from a relevant Masters course or finding a professional development course.

Along with access to Proficio, our department offers training in discipline-specific skills through advanced subject modules. If your background is not psychology or cognitive neuroscience, this can be particularly helpful. We are also developing additional training seminars to boost training across different research areas and career skills.

Beyond academia

Research students do not necessarily intend to stay in academia once they have finished their thesis. Graduates with a research degree in psychology can move into a range of roles, such as science communication, laboratory supervision, or policy advisor for national governments.

Along with the skills you develop through your degree you can also use your Proficio funding for professional development courses that will help you develop transferable skills that will help you find employment outside of academia, such as good communication skills, project management, and specialist software experience.

You can also develop your skills and your professional network through the university’s Research and Enterprise Office (REO). The REO includes a postgraduate consultancy service that allows students to gain or extend engagement with employers. This is helpful to build up your experience and your CV while you carry our your research, and can help you with employment references outside of your supervisors.

For those graduates with an interest in entrepreneurship, the university is a University Enterprise Zone, so you can get advice and guidance on important areas of business creation such as developing your business plan and securing start-up funding. The Innovation Centre also runs a series of events that help you build your network or develop your business idea.

Dr Jordi Asher wearing a black leather jacket and smiling at the camera, with a mottled grey background behind her.
Graduate stories: Dr Jordi Asher

Dr Jordi Asher talks about her journey from mature undergraduate student to PhD and lecturer in the Department of Psychology.

Read Jordi's story
“My best memory, so far, was when I was told my first paper was accepted into a journal, it was such an achievement. Once I have completed my PhD, I would love to become a lecturer. Essex is one of the leading universities for research, so completing a research degree here will stand me in very good stead when I start applying for jobs.”
Rachel Grenfell-Essam PhD Psychology
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