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Research degrees

We're proud that Biological Sciences at York are ranked in the top 10 overall in the UK according to the Times Higher Education’s ranking of the latest REF results. With a commitment to interdisciplinary research, our research is arranged in nine foci that use state-of-the-art technology to address three global challenges facing humanity; health and disease, sustainable food and fuel, and environmental change. Read more about our research and its impact.

Our almost 70 principal investigators are supported by current grants totalling £52 million. Every step of our research is carried out with the indispensable help of postgraduate students. No matter which area of Biology you specialise in, you will be working alongside some of the world’s biggest names in their respective fields, at the cutting edge of scientific exploration. Learn more about our academic staff and their research interests.

Degree courses

DegreeFull-timePart-timeWriting up periodLength of thesis (max)AssessmentFunding
MSc by Research  1 year  2 years  3 months  30,000 words  Thesis  Self-funded 
MPhil  2 years  4 years  12 months  60,000 words  Thesis and oral examination  Self-funded 
PhD 3/4 years 6 years 12 months 80,000 words Thesis and oral examination Self-funded or studentship

We welcome applications all year round. Your start date will be the 1st day of the month as agreed with the supervisor, unless stated otherwise in the project description. We would strongly encourage a start date in either October or January, when induction and training sessions are normally scheduled for new research students.

Fully-funded PhD projects

Self-funded Projects

Course information


A PhD thesis must contain a substantial original contribution to scientific knowledge or understanding. The thesis is judged by two examiners and the student is required to attend an oral examination on the subject of the thesis and on related research. The oral examination is vital for the award of the degree.

An MPhil thesis is expected to display a good general knowledge of the field of study; a comprehensive knowledge of some part or aspect of the field of study; and a recognisable original contribution to knowledge or understanding. The thesis is judged by two examiners and the student is required to attend an oral examination on the subject of the thesis and on related research. The oral examination is vital for the award of the degree.

An MSc by Research is shorter than an MPhil programme and consequently, the thesis will be narrower in scope than an MPhil thesis, although it should still contain some original work. The thesis is also judged by two examiners but the student is normally not required to attend an oral examination.


Your personal supervisor is responsible for overseeing both your progress on the research project and your personal welfare. Your and your supervisor meet regularly on an informal basis to discuss progress and have a formal supervisory meeting every 6 weeks. In addition, two independent academics are appointed as members of your Thesis Advisory Panel (TAP) to maintain an overview of your research work and offer advice. You, your supervisor and TAP members will meet formally at least twice a year to review progress and make a realistic appraisal for the timetable of work to be undertaken.


Our research degrees include an integrated cohort-based training programme to provide you with project-specific and transferable skills for your future career. You will learn to read and appraise scientific literature, to speak and present confidently to a scientific audience, and to write a lucid account of your research. You will have the opportunity to gain experience of demonstrating to undergraduate and taught masters students, and receive practical advice on career planning. We also holds a series of research seminars across all disciplines which are open to all researchers. There are also opportunities to present your own work through posters and talks.


For entry to our research degree courses, you will normally be expected to have a good honours degree (first or upper second class or equivalent) in any biological subject. We will consider applicants with backgrounds in Chemistry, Computer Science, Electronics, Environment, Mathematics, Medicine or Physics who can demonstrate a commitment to the biosciences.

We offer a number of projects (fully-funded and self-funded) to support research leading to a research degree. Your nationality and residency status in the UK will determine which of them you are eligible for.

English language

If English isn't your first language you may need to provide evidence of your English language ability. For more information see our Postgraduate English language requirements.


All our research students benefit from a balanced programme of training in broader research-related skills that enhance their career prospects. This is tailored to individual needs, taking into account previous experience and future career aims.

  • General courses for all students include project planning, writing and presentation skills, ethics and integrity, data science and teaching.
  • Specific courses for individual needs might include advanced science training through our Masters modules in bioinformatics, etc.
  • We have an in-house Graduate Skills Coordinator who oversees our training provision and develops it to meet the needs of all our students.
  • Each student has a training record and needs to spend about two weeks each year on training activities.
  • Our course is designed to meet and exceed the requirements of the UK research councils.


A research degree is internationally recognised as a demonstration that you have the skills, intellect and motivation to carry out original research and present it convincingly. It is more or less essential to have a research degree if you plan a career as an independent researcher with responsibility for your own research programme, whether in academia, research institutes, or industry. In this case, the next stage will probably be a postdoctoral position where you will broaden your research experience and perhaps do some teaching and help to supervise other staff and students.

A lifetime of research is not for everyone, though, and there are many other careers in which the skills you develop during your research degree will certainly not be wasted. You will have learnt to think rigorously for yourself, to find information and teach yourself what you need to know, to present your case convincingly in writing and to an audience, to meet deadlines, and to plan your work effectively on short and long timescales. Employers of all kinds recognise and value skills like these.


All research students have access to:

  • modern, well-equipped research labs
  • your own desk in a write-up area outside the lab
  • the Technology Facility – a very special feature of York – with advanced equipment and expert staff to help you use it; all research students get an annual allowance to use the TF for training and research
  • catering and social areas on campus


Before submitting an application you need to identify a research project that interests you. We would encourage you to email a 2-page academic CV along with a brief supporting statement explaining why you are interested in the project, to the appropriate academic member of staff for discussion. The potential supervisor will decide whether or not you should submit an application through our University online system.

To browse the research projects available and apply for a postgraduate degree programme, please click on the fully-funded PhD projects or self-funded projects button in the degree programme section above. To propose your own research project and apply for a postgraduate degree programme please click on the self-funded projects button.

After you have applied, your potential supervisor will assess your application and all the relevant documents, including two academic references. If your application is strong enough, you will be invited for an interview either in person or by video. As part of the interview process, you will usually be expected to make a 10-minute presentation on a recent piece of research conducted by you. The interview panel will consist of your potential supervisor and an independent academic. After the interview, your potential supervisor will inform you whether or not your application will be forwarded to our Biology Research Admissions Committee (RAC) for official approval. RAC will check whether you have appropriate qualifications and background to undertake research study in our Department, and that satisfactory arrangements are in place for supervision. Applicants offered places must fulfill all entry requirements for the uptake of their place by the time the course starts.

Contact us

If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Biology Postgraduate Admissions team.

  • Postal address:

Biology Graduate Office
Department of Biology
University of York
YO10 5DD
United Kingdom