PhD/MPhil/MSc programmes for research students


Overview of research degrees

Rated second in the UK and 17th in the world for the impact of our research, the Environment department at the University of York offers an outstanding, dynamic and multidisciplinary environment in which to carry out PhD research. Our current PhD students come from many countries around the world and are funded via research councils, charities, industry, government grants, and private resources.

To find a PhD supervisor you can search for people with expertise in a particular area using our find a supervisor tool or you can access individuals’ research interests via our staff profiles. We particularly welcome applications that connect with our research themes and groups.

Prospective students are encouraged to contact potential supervisors early on. They will be happy to give you advice on the feasibility of your research ideas and offer feedback on a draft proposal. For each academic year, we also offer a number of funded studentships to exceptional applicants. Please see the funding section and vacancies section for more information.

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), a leading global environmental policy institute, has one of its largest centres embedded within the Environment Department. This unique arrangement allows postgraduate researchers to gain a research degree from the department, whilst simultaneously benefiting from SEI’s strong links to global policy makers such as UNEP and the World Health Organisation, and international connections with other SEI centres in Stockholm, Boston, Bangkok, Dar es Salaam and Oxford.


Research degree programmes

We offer the following research options (please also see our Postgraduate Research Student Handbook (PDF  , 285kb))

MSc by Research

The Environment Department also offers an MSc by Research degree, where students follow an approved programme of research supervised by a member of academic staff. The thesis is assessed solely on the basis of that research by two individually appointed examiners. An MSc by Research normally takes 1 year to complete.


The PhD is a higher degree awarded for a thesis presenting original research that makes a publishable contribution to knowledge or understanding. A student will be working on their own research project, working closely with their academic supervisor and with the support of other postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers and staff in their research group.

MPhil/PhD in Human Geography and EnvironmentMPhil/PhD in Environmental Geography MPhil/PhD in Environmental Science MPhil/PhD in Environmental Economics and Environmental Management
  satellite image of glacier  smog over city ‌

The research in this programme is concentrated in the following key areas:

  • Energy geographies including: international development; public and stakeholder attitudes towards supply, demand, and energy system change; environmental and social justice issues
  • Perceptions of environmental and socio-technical risk issues
  • Environmental, economic and social costs of enhanced transport systems
  • Sustainable agri-food systems, including understanding current or changed behaviours that may affect the sustainability of consumption and production systems in the future
  • Interaction of social, economic and political processes across urban contexts

Research in this programme is focussed on:

  • Tropical ecosystem response to environmental change
  • Reconstructing Quaternary environments and sea levels
  • Managing consequences of climate change
  • Glaciology and characterising glacial terrain
  • Ecosystem modelling
  • Soil systems and biogeochemical cycles
  • Environmental change and sustainable societies

Research in this programme is focussed on:

  • Prediction of water quality from catchment characteristics
  • Pollution effects upon soil/plant/water ecosystems
  • Evaluation of critical loads and levels of pollutants
  • Modelling of atmospheric chemistry processes
  • Biogeochemical cycling and sustainability
  • Indoor and outdoor exposure to air pollution
  • Environmental impacts of volcanoes
  • Pathways and impacts of agricultural pollutants

The MPhil and PhD programmes in Environmental Economics and Environmental Management offer interdisciplinary research across economic and ecological sciences, concentrated in the following key areas:

  • Economics of the environment
  • Ecology and environmental management, with emphasis on marine systems, tropical and temperate forest systems, and agro-ecosystems
  • The nature and impacts of environmental pollution
  • Sustainable use of terrestrial, marine and freshwater resources
  • Economic growth and environmental health outcomes
  • Environmental health, migration and socio-economic change

The PhD requires a dissertation of up to 80,000 words, to be submitted by full-time students after a period of three years' study (or six years for part-time students), with a further maximum of one year allowable for writing up.

The MPhil is a research degree in its own right, and requires a dissertation of up to 60,000 words to be submitted by full-time students after a period of two years' study (by part-time students after four years).

How to apply

Applying for a research degree programme

Before applying to one of our postgraduate degrees, you are encouraged to peruse our faculty profiles, research interests and list of current PhD projects to identify the areas you are most interested and specific members of staff with whom you would like to work. Please feel free to contact any potential supervisors directly before making your application.

To apply for admission as a graduate student (PhD, MPhil or MSc by research) you will need to complete the online application form. Although applications are accepted at any stage of the year, you are encouraged to apply in January/February of the year in which you wish to gain admission if you are seeking a Research Council-funded place. Overseas candidates should apply as early as possible before the start of the academic year in which they wish to gain admission. You should also be aware of any deadlines for other funding for which you may be applying.

Please also remember to check our list of current vacancies where PhD opportunities are advertised througout the year as they become available.

For all applications please remember to include:

  • The name(s) of potential supervisors
  • The project or area of research you are interested in
  • Transcripts of your undergraduate and any Masters degrees. Please ensure that you meet the minimum entry requirements.
  • A Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • An accepted English language certificate if English is not your first language.
  • Details of how you intend to finance your studies
  • Details of two referees, one of whom should be academic

If you do not have all the necessary documentation, for example you may be waiting for your degree certificate, you can still submit your application and then upload further documents later.

The Environment Department and the University of York offer several studentships to support research leading to a PhD. Your nationality and residency will determine your specific eligibility. Please see the funding section for more information.

If you have any questions, or require any further information about postgraduate study please contact (Environment Department) or (SEI).

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

We prefer applicants to MPhil/PhD programme to have a relevant Masters degree. Those without should consider first taking one of the Department’s taught MScs, a pass in any of which would satisfy minimum entry requirements.

Applicants whose first language is not English will need to ensure that they meet the University’s minimum language requirements, which are

  • IELTS: 6.5 (in the 'Academic' test)
    • Listening – 6.0
    • Reading – 6.0
    • Speaking – 6.0
    • Writing – 6.0
  • Pearson: 55 (PTE Academic)
    • Listening – 51
    • Reading – 51
    • Speaking – 51
    • Writing – 51
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE): C
  • Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE): A
  • GSCE/IGCSE in English Language: C

Pre-sessional English language programmes

Applicants may already have an IELTS result of 6.0 but require 6.5 overall, or have met the overall language requirement but not one of the skill components (where these are specified, e.g. Writing 6.0 or 6.5). In this situation, applicants can take a pre-sessional programme with the Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT). These programmes provide a route into a postgraduate course without the need for an IELTS/TOEFL/Pearson exam retake. Please note that places are limited and the English pre-sessional programmes offered by CELT are extremely popular. Applications can be made via your Application Tracker.  Please apply early to avoid disappointment.

Please see the University’s English language requirements pages for more information.


Programme structure

As a research student in the Environment department, you can expect

  • One or more supervisors to oversee your research and training.
  • Potential collaboration with staff at SEI-York or in other departments such as Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Politics or Social Policy.
  • A Thesis Advisory Committee of three staff including your supervisors to guide progress and offer support.
  • Opportunities to attend seminars by leading scientists from around the world, and to present your own work through posters and talks at departmental conferences.
  • A varied, comprehensive and tailored programme of training in both core research methods and broader research-related skills that enhances your career prospects.
  • A variety of training and development programmes to assist you in your studies and your career, including an accredited introductory teaching programme for researchers who intend to pursue an academic career.
  • Opportunities to enrol in any taught modules offered by the department and other departments in related fields of enquiry.

Fees and funding

Fees and funding

The Environment Department are part of two Doctoral Training Centres/Partnerships where full scholarships are available for British/EU citizens:
1. The White Rose Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (WR DTC) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which provides both studentships and a range of research and training-related activities in the field of social sciences. 
2. The ACCE (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment) Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Natural Resources Council (NERC).  We are currently advertising 9 studentships across Environmental Science, Environmental Geography, and Ecology.
For more information on departmental scholarships and other postgraduate funding opportunities, please see the following pages:

Contact us

For enquiries relating to postgraduate research in the Environment department, please contact Maroula Hill

  • Postal address 
    Environment Department
    Wentworth Way
    University of York
    YO10 5NG
    United Kingdom

For queries relating to postgraduate research at SEI specifically, please contact Emma Holland

  • Postal address 
    Environment Department
    Wentworth Way
    University of York
    YO10 5NG
    United Kingdom