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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

2015/16 - £4,100 for UK/EU students, £15,500 for international students.

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


Both the River Basins Processes and Management and Ecology & Global Change Research Clusters are 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.  For Ecology and Global Change projects, please apply by 9am on 4th August 2016 for an October 2016 start. 


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.

Projects available

River Basins Processes and Management

Multiple projects are available within the River Basin Processes & Management research cluster. These are as follows:

  • Projects on wetland ecology and hydrology and wetland palaeoecology on sites in North Wales and in the Norfolk Broads, with partners including the Broads Authority, 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 aquatic ecology in a range of environments including peatlands and glaciated catchments.
    Email Dr Lee Brown (l.brown(at) ) for more details.
  • Projects on overland flow and erosion in semi-arid environments.
    Email Dr Mark Smith (m.w.smith(at) for more details.

Some of these projects carry additional funding to help with laboratory or field expenses. The River Basin Processes & Management research cluster is offering £1000 bursaries to strong candidates. In addition, one of the wetland hydrology projects comes with a guaranteed £500 bursary from the Broads Authority plus help in kind. Further details on the projects within the River Basin Processes & Management research cluster are available from Dr Mark Smith (m.w.smith(at) and Prof. Andy Baird (a.j.baird(at)

Ecology and Global Change

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)

Application deadline for EGC bursaries for an October 2016 start, please apply by 9am on 4th August 2016

Project 1: Understanding long-term ecosystem dynamics of tropical peatlands
Supervisors: Dr Graeme Swindles and Dr Karen Bacon
Email g.t.swindles(at) for more details

Tropical peatlands represent a major pool of terrestrial organic carbon on Earth and are found in Africa, SE Asia, Central America and Amazonia. However, relatively little is known about long-term dynamics of these ecosystems and whether they will be resilient to future changes in climate. This project will analyse peat cores from Peruvian Amazonia and/or Panama to examine the long-term dynamics of tropical peatlands in terms of their ecology, hydrology and carbon accumulation. The palaeoenvironmental data will be used to investigate the response of tropical peatland to past changes in climate.

Project 2: Investigating leaf physiognomy and function in the Early Jurassic
Supervisors: Dr Karen Bacon & Dr Graeme Swindles
Email k.bacon(at) for more details.

Leaf size and shape (physiognomy) and function relate to a range of different environmental variables and can help to inform us about how plants responded to environmental pressures in the geological past and possibly predict how they may respond future climate change. The Early Jurassic marks a period of recovery after the Triassic–Jurassic mass extinction event and so understanding how terrestrial ecosystems responded to and recovered from this major global event is extremely important.  An analysis of the size, shape, and functional traits of museum samples will be used to investigate plant responses to this major environmental event.

Project 3: Drought-induced tree mortality: a methodologic perspective to assess embolism formation
Supervisors: Dr David Galbraith, Professor Emanuel Gloor, and Julia Tavares.
Email gyjvt(at) (Julia Tavares) for more details.

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 4: Using Smartphones to Crowdsource Meteorological Data

Supervisor: Dr Guy Ziv
Email G.Ziv(at) for more details.

Development of climate-related early warning system (EWS) requires accurate, frequent and finely resolution meteorological data on temperature, wind, pressure, rainfall and humidity. The proliferation of Internet-connected mobile devices has created an opportunity for crowdsourcing smartphones sensor data for environmental research and EWS. For example, previous research (Overeem et al. Geophy. 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 5: Climate effects on tropical tree growth: light vs. drought limitations
Supervisor: Dr Roel Brienen
Email r.brienen(at) for more details.   

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 site, 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 6: Diversity and traits of tropical nitrogen-fixing trees
Supervisor: Dr Sarah Batterman
Email S.A.Batterman(at) for more details.
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