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School of Geography

MA/MSc (By Research)

MA, MSc (by Research)

About the course

Studying for an MA or MSc by Research (MbR) can be an excellent opportunity to develop your intellectual skills and your academic interest in a particular field. The MbR is a 12-month research project (24 months part-time). It is distinct from our taught masters programmes and involves planning, implementing and writing up a research project. You will be supervised by two members of academic staff and will be encouraged to submit your work for publication at the end of the course.

We have projects you can apply for but you are also welcome to propose your own research project.

By undertaking an original piece of research you will develop a mixture of high-level subject-specific and generic skills. These include:

  • Project management (the ability to organise, plan and carry through to completion a complicated project).
  • Technical expertise (project dependent but may also include good laboratory and fieldwork practice and advanced health and safety skills).
  • High-level oral communication skills (especially on projects involving external partners and sponsors with whom you will liaise).
  • Strong written communication skills (in writing up your research project you will become proficient at explaining complicated ideas in simple language).
  • Data analysis skills (data handling, collation, and, where appropriate, statistical and graphical analysis).
  • Self-motivation. Although you will be closely supervised, you will have to be strongly self-motivated to succeed.

The MbR is suitable for:

  • Recent graduates who wish to follow up their first degree with more in-depth study of a particular field of interest, linked to further study such as a PhD or to a job in a particular sector (e.g. water company).
  • Mid-career candidates who are currently employed, for instance in education, local government, or environmental consultancy, who want a continuing professional development opportunity that allows them to enhance their skills in areas relevant to their job.

As a MbR student you will have regular meetings with your supervisors and will receive training in research skills on the University of Leeds's research student training programme. You will join a large and dynamic community of research students in one of the UK's highest-rated Geography departments.

The MbR is assessed by a thesis of up to 30,000 words (typically 15,000-20,000 words in physical geography), and by an oral examination. One key learning outcome of the MbR is that your research should be of a publishable standard, and once you have passed your exam we will offer advice about preparing your work for publication.

An attractive feature of the MbR is that you can start at any time of year (on the first day of any month) giving you maximum flexibility in organising your post-BSc/BA learning.

Entry requirements and fees

You will need at least a UK 2.i honours degree or equivalent. English language requirements are as follows if English is not your first language:

  • TOEFL score (internet-based test) of at least 92 overall with at least 21 in listening and reading, 22 in writing and 23 in speaking
  • IELTS (Academic) score of at least 6.5, with at least 6.0 in all components
  • PTE (Academic) score of 64, with at least 60 in all components

Note that, for part-time students who combine their studies with paid employment, their employment should normally be related to the research project they are undertaking.

Tuition fees

2016/17 - £4,250 for UK/EU students, £16,500 for international students.

2017/18 - £4,250 for UK/EU students, £17,500 for international students.

Part time fees are 50% of the full-time rate.

These fees include some laboratory expenses, to be discussed prior to application with your proposed supervisors. For masters projects involving extended periods of laboratory work or field work, students may have to meet additional expenses, typically in the range of £1000 - £2000. However, in most years we are able to offer project specific bursaries of £1000 or more, some of which are funded by project partners or outside sponsors.  It is now also possible for UK students to obtain a postgraduate loan for masters study


The Ecology & Global Change Research Cluster is offering several £1,000 bursaries to suitable UK/EU applicants.  Please see the "Projects" tab for details of possible topics and note on your online application form (section D under "Finance")  that you wish to be considered for one of these. 


Within physical geography it is usual to apply for a particular topic, while in human geography it is more usual to propose your own topic. However, we welcome topic proposals on both sides of the discipline. We will consider any topic provided it can be supervised by our staff. To see our staff web pages follow this link. Staff will be happy to discuss your project ideas with you and to discuss existing projects to which you can apply.

To see more about the research we do, follow the research clusters links on our research pages here.

Multiple projects are available for 2017-2018 within the River Basin Processes & Management research cluster. These include the following:

  • Projects on (i) understanding and monitoring erosion processes in UK peatlands, (ii) applying high resolution modelling techniques to inform river restoration, and (iii) tropical river geomorphology and hydraulic modelling. For more details contact Dr Mark Smith (m.w.smith(at)
  • Projects on wetland hydrology, wetland ecology, and wetland palaeoecology, with partners including the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Email Prof. Andy Baird (a.j.baird(at) for more details.
  • Projects on measuring and modelling the ecohydrology of restored mangrove forests in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Email Prof. Andy Baird (a.j.baird(at) ) for more details.
  • Projects on upland soil function, with particular reference to carbon storage and water quality with Dr Sheila Palmer (s.m.palmer(at)

Some of these projects carry additional funding to help with laboratory or field expenses. There is also the possibility that particularly strong candidates may be considered for a £500-£1000 bursary from the River Basin Processes & Management research cluster. You are also welcome to propose your own project ideas. If you have an idea that you would like to develop into a project please contact Prof. Andy Baird (a.j.baird(at) in the first instance who will then pair you with a suitable member of staff.

The Ecology & Global Change Research Cluster invites applicants interested in undertaking a Masters by Research on any topic of interest to the academic staff in the cluster. The cluster will provide a £1000 bursary to offset fees to suitable applicants (up to a maximum of three per year). Some potential projects are outlined below, but if you have a particular idea or topic that you are interested in and would like to discuss the possibility of a Masters by Research, please contact the relevant potential supervisor. Staff details and research interests can be found at: General queries about Masters by Research can be directed to Dr Karen Bacon (k.bacon(at)

The deadline for applications wishing to be considered for the bursaries is 30th June 2017.

Project 1: Peruvian tropical forests
Fully Funded for Peruvian students; Funder: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Supervisor: Dr Tim Baker (t.r.baker(at)

Intact tropical forests are changing profoundly as a result of climate change: increasing temperatures and changing frequencies of floods and drought are altering forest composition and structure, and as a result, the services that these ecosystems provide. We need to quantify and understand these changes, and incorporate this information into the design and management of protected areas in the tropics.

Two, full, scholarships (including fees, stipend and travel costs) are available for suitably qualified applicants from Peru to undertake research projects related to this topic, based on the analysis of permanent forest plot data from the Andes-Amazon region of Peru. Specific research questions will be defined in conjunction with the successful applicants, but could involve community-wide analyses of compositional and structure change in these forests, or detailed analysis of the ecology and sensitivity to climate change of economically important species. These scholarships are part of the project, ‘Monitoring Protected Areas in Peru to Increase Forest Resilience to Climate Change’ funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation which aims to build capacity in Peru to monitor and understand the impact of climate change on the protected area network, and use this information to strengthen their management. As a result, priority will be given to applications from Peruvian students who demonstrate a commitment to contribute to conservation and forest management in the Andes-Amazon region of Peru after completing this course. During the MbR, you will have the opportunity to attend courses and training in data analysis and tropical ecology.

Proposed start date: 01/10/17.  Deadline for Peruvian applicants TBC.

Project 2: Understanding underground biomass in Japanese knotweed
Supervisors: Dr Karen Bacon (k.bacon(at) and Dr Mark Smith

Understanding the extent of the underground biomass and rhizome/seed longevity in the soil is crucial to managing invasive non-native species. Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is suspected to have a large rhizome network that remains viable in the soil long after herbicide treatment has ceased. This has led to the frequently cited 7 m rule being used as a reason to deny mortgage applications on properties with infestations. However, this distance is not based on experimentation and requires further investigation. Depending on student’s interests, the project could (i) use ground penetrating radar to determine the extent of the rhizome network across a range of soil types and stand maturities; (ii) investigate the rate at which Japanese knotweed rhizome extends using historical and current satellite imagery and site investigation across a range of habitat types; (iii) investigate the longevity of buried rhizome material using herbicide treatment, burial and exhumation experiments; (iv) calculate cell death rate microscopically over the period of the research project to determine half-life and to model longevity; (v) investigate the depth that seeds/rhizomes of the each species are found across a range of soil types and conditions for a range of distances from parent plants.

Dr Bacon is happy to supervise projects relating to plant functional ecology; palaeoecology; plant–atmosphere interactions; invasive plants

Project 3: Tree zone ecology: Investigate and evaluate the ecological benefits of long grass zones under park trees
Supervisors: Dr Julie Peacock (j.peacock(at) and Dr Karen Bacon

As places of outstanding beauty and cultural significance, historic parks and gardens are important to society today in providing a stimulating and healthy environment for outdoor activities and social wellbeing. Many of the trees integral to these landscapes are of great age and, as independent ecosystems, they are naturally inclined to produce dead wood and shed branches. One of the accepted methods of discouraging access by people to the ground beneath large trees is to adopt a parkland mowing regime that allows long grass to grow under the trees. Rather than merely serving as a compromise these long grass zones may well be beneficial to the tree, such as in reducing soil compaction, protecting roots and supporting a greater range of biological communities beneficial to the tree, which in turn could improve the health and prolong the life of the tree. The exact direction of the research could be driven by the research interests of the student. Information derived from research into the ecological benefits of establishing managed long grass zones under park trees will be fed into tree management policy of the study site: Harewood House.

Project 4: Peatland response to recent climate warming in the Alaskan North Slope
Supervisors: Dr Graeme Swindles (g.t.swindles(at) and Dr Paul Morris.

There is much concern about the effects of climate warming on permafrost peatlands. This project will focus on developing new multi-proxy palaeoecological records from frozen peatlands in northern Alaska. The data will be used to evaluate the influence of recent climate change on vegetation communities, carbon accumulation, permafrost dynamics and hydrology.

Dr Swindles welcomes enquires for MSc by Research in the following areas:  Environmental change; Quaternary science; climate change and palaeoclimate; palaeoecology and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction; Arctic, temperate and tropical peatlands; microbial ecology and micropalaeontology (testate amoebae); volcanic ash and volcano-climate interactions.

Project 5: Drought-induced tree mortality: a methodologic perspective to assess embolism formation
Supervisors: Dr David Galbraith, Prof. Emanuel Gloor, and Julia Tavares (gyjvt(at)

Hydraulic failure has been shown as the most likely cause of drought-induced tree mortality around the world. To better predict how forests will be affected by climate change, it is fundamentally important to find the best approach to assess embolism formation and characterize tree vulnerability and resistance to drought. The central aim of the proposed project is to compare two different approaches to assess hydraulic failures in plants. To do so, the student will induce drought conditions in a range of different tree species and evaluate their response to water stress. The findings from this project will be help to better understand causes of tree mortality in Amazonian forests.

Project 6: Using smartphones to crowdsource meteorological data
Supervisor: Dr Guy Ziv (g.ziv(at)

Development of climate-related early warning systems (EWS) requires accurate, frequent and fine resolution meteorological data on temperature, wind, pressure, rainfall and humidity. The proliferation of Internet-connected mobile devices has created an opportunity for crowdsourcing smartphone sensor data for environmental research and EWS. For example, previous research (Overeem et al. Geophys. Res. Let. 40, 4081–4085) showed how battery temperature predicts daily averaged air temperatures. This project aims to explore further applications of crowdsourced mobile sensor data, collected via the WeatherSignal App. The project is suited for a student with good computational/statistical skills and ideally some programming experience, with an interest in Big Data use for environmental research.

Project 7: Climate effects on tropical tree growth: light vs. drought limitations
Supervisor: Dr Roel Brienen (r.brienen(at)

Tropical forests are an important component of the global water and carbon cycles. Despite their importance very little is known on tropical tree responses to variation in climate. Specifically, it has been suggested that tropical tree productivity may be limited by water at drier sites and light at wetter sites, but few observational data exist. In this project you will use tree rings and isotopes to unravel the effects of drought and light limitations on tropical tree growth and photosynthesis. You will make use of existing tree ring samples from various different sites in the Amazon basin and Central America, and analyse ring width and carbon isotopes to understand growth responses to light and drought. The work involves an exciting combination of dendrochronology (tree ring analysis) and advanced state of the art isotope analysis.

Project 8: Diversity and traits of tropical nitrogen-fixing trees
Supervisor: Dr Sarah Batterman (s.a.batterman(at)

Details TBA.

Dr Batterman welcomes any enquiries to undertake a Masters by Research on this broad topic.


Application guidance

The first step is to decide on a project. You may apply to one of our named projects or propose your own.

What you do next depends on whether you are applying for an existing project or proposing your own.

  • For existing projects, you should write a Statement of Motivation of 500-1000 words explaining which project you have applied for, why you are suited to the project, and how you see the project developing (in outline indicate what work you would undertake to complete the project successfully).
  • If proposing your own project you should write a 1000-2000 word Research Proposal in which you include the project title, the members of Geography staff you have consulted, the project's aims and objectives, and your planned work programme. We need sufficient information to judge whether your project is novel and achievable in the time available for the MbR.

You should then submit an online application and all listed supporting paperwork as outlined here. Applications are welcome at any time of year, though they may take several weeks to process.

Applicants wishing to be considered for EGC bursaries for an October 2016 start should apply by 9am on 4th August 2016