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PhD/MPhil/MSc research degrees


Overview of research degrees

Our research is ranked joint second in the UK for impact, according to the Times Higher Education’s ranking of the latest REF results (2021).  The Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York offers an outstanding, dynamic and multidisciplinary environment in which to carry out postgraduate research. Our current Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs) come from many countries around the world and are funded via research councils, charities, industry, government grants, and private resources.

Use the find a supervisor tool to search for a PhD supervisor with expertise in a particular area or staff profiles to view individuals’ research interests. We particularly welcome applications that connect with our research themes and groups.

You should 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 the list of current PhD projects for more information.

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), a leading global environmental policy institute, has one of its largest centres embedded within the Department of Environment and Geography. This unique arrangement allows postgraduate researchers to gain a research degree from the department, while 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, Bangkok, Nairobi, Oxford, Tallinn, Bogota, and offices in the US.


Research degrees

We offer the following research degrees.

MSc by Research

The Department of Environment and Geography 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 Environment


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

MPhil/PhD in Environmental Geography

satellite image of glacier

Research in this programme is focused 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

MPhil/PhD in Environmental Science

Research in this programme is focused 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

MPhil/PhD in Environmental Economics and Environmental Management 

smog over city

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 thesis 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 thesis of up to 40,000 words to be submitted by full-time students after a period of two years' study (by part-time students after four years).

Following the thesis submission, MPhil and PhD candidates (and Masters by Research candidates at the discretion of the examiners) will be required to sit an oral examination known as a viva. Masters by Research candidates are required to give a research seminar for one of the department’s research groups. 

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.

Your outline research proposal should include the context of your research, its aims and objectives and hypotheses that you will test. You should also indicate the methods that you will use to address these. In the first instance aim to produce a document no more than two sides of A4 in length. Should a prospective supervisor require more detail to assess your application they will let you know.

For all applications please remember to include:

  • the name(s) of potential supervisors
  • if you are applying for a specific project that has been advertised, include the name of the project and funding body.
  • if you are applying with your own research idea, include an outline research proposal.
  • 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 Department of Environment and Geography 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 (Department of Environment and Geography) 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 degrees or an MSc by Research, 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.

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, eg Writing 6.0 or 6.5). The International Pathway College (IPC) offers a range of pre-sessional courses that you can apply for. These language courses take place in the summer before the start of taught programmes for students who need to improve their English slightly before admission.  Please apply early to avoid disappointment.

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


Degree structure

As a research student in the Department of Environment and Geography, 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 the 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 teaching development 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 Department of Environment and Geography is part of two Doctoral Training Centres/Partnerships where full scholarships are available are available to Home and International applicants:
2. The White Rose Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (WR DTP), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  This scheme builds on the success of the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre and covers a range of pathways (including, for example, Cities, Environment and Liveability).  Applicants should discuss with us the theme that is the best fit for their research proposal.
For more information on departmental scholarships and other postgraduate funding opportunities, please see the following pages:

Contact us

Department of Environment and Geography

Department of Environment and Geography
Wentworth Way
University of York
YO10 5NG
United Kingdom

Stockholm Environment Institute at York