MRC Centre for Reproductive Health
MRC Logo JAN 2019

MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences

The ideal route for a successful PhD student.




The Centre for Reproductive Health operates a one-year, full-time MSc by Research course that can be taken as a stand-alone course or as part of a bespoke 4-year PhD programme. Students undertake two separate 20 week long laboratory-based research projects.  This is complemented with a series of teaching lecture modules covering the reproductive sciences, together with research seminars delivered by internationally-recognised experts in the field.  There are also a series of student-led small group tutorials, journal clubs and skills workshops. Successful graduates normally either progress to study for a PhD project in Reproductive Biology/Medicine; return to their profession with a greater theoretical and practical understanding of modern research techniques in the biosciences and reproductive biology; or establish greater expertise in this field to allow them to embark on a focused career path.



Programme Aims The aim of the MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences is to prepare graduates for a research career in Reproductive Biology/Medicine. Students who complete the programme have frequently gone on to study for a PhD in the field of Reproductive Health, either in Edinburgh or elsewhere. Of seven students on the MSc course in 2010-11 five gained PhD positions starting in 2011-12.  Of twelve students on the MSc course in 2011-12 seven gained PhD positions starting in 2012-13.

The Programme aims to attract the best students from around the world to join the international research community of biomedical sciences in Edinburgh.  It is designed to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the needs of excellent students from a variety of backgrounds.

Programme Design The MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences Programme has a clear postgraduate ethos, with strong emphasis on student presentations and interactive discussion with tutors and their research groups. Research themes, introduced through lectures, seminars, tutorials and laboratory-based research projects, are together designed to develop student’s appropriate analytical skills and understanding and to give practical experience in a wide range of relevant laboratory techniques. Students also have the opportunity, throughout the year, to attend a wide variety of research seminars (both within the Queen’s Medical Research Institute and across the University of Edinburgh) on topics across a very broad spectrum of biomedical research and to take part in transferable skills courses, local journal clubs, research clinics and public science outreach.  

The programme has three components:

  • Students undertake two 20-week laboratory projects (October to March, then April to August), usually in one of the research themes within a laboratory of the Centre for Reproductive Health and sometimes elsewhere in the QMRI or Edinburgh Research Community, often linked through the MSc by Research in Biomedical Sciences. These projects, which are the main assessed components of the programme, are specifically designed to provide students with practical experience of a wide range of up-to-date research techniques in cellular and molecular biology. They also permit students to gain critical appraisal and scientific writing skills. Before commencing their second research project, students prepare a research proposal and project plan for this second project in the form of a grant application, which is also an assessed component of the programme. Students carry out their research project and then write up the results as their second project report, to be submitted by mid-August for assessment towards the MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences.
  • In the first two semesters (September - February) students attend a series of teaching lectures and seminars on module-based themes to give them a broad insight across the reproductive sciences field. They also attend a series of research seminars and clinics, and participate in student-led tutorials and journal clubs.
  • A variety of short transferable skills courses are time-tabled to be available concurrently with the Programme throughout the year. These include ‘Delivering Effective Presentations’, ‘Scientific Writing and Basic Statistics’ and ‘Effective Project Planning’.

Semester 1 - Mid September to Mid December

  • lecture and tutorial series
  • Core lab skills (2 weeks) and generic scientific skills
  • First 20-week research project
  • Scientific writing exercise

Semester 2 - Mid January to April

  • Lecture and tutorial series
  • Complete first research project
  • Second research project proposal
  • Start second research project

Summer - May to August

  • Complete second research project

Project Proposal and Dissertation The MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences programme has the following advantages:

  • It gives students insight into a variety of research areas;
  • The research projects also serve as a vehicle for students to gain confidence and experience in the generic skills associated with research including information technology, statistical techniques and communication of experimental results.
  • It enables graduates of the programme to assimilate rapidly into a PhD project, bringing to it more mature perspectives and a broader range of experimental and professional skills than is possible under the standard three year programme

If you have any queries about this programme, please do not hesitate to email

Student Assessment ~ The weighting of the different assessed components of the MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences programme is outlined below:

MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences  
1 - Research Project 1 80 credits

Average over first two components (Research Project 1 and Research Proposal for Project 2) < 40% - Fail. = 40-49% proceed to Diploma.

> 50% - Pass - proceed to Main Project and Dissertation.
2 - Research Proposal for Project 2 20 credits  
3 - Lecture Series on Reproductive systems and mechanisms 0 credits  
4 - Research Project 2 80 credits < 40% - Fail. = 40-49% - Diploma.> 50% - Pass.> 70% average over all components = Distinction.



Students scoring >50% will proceed to the second project. 

A Diploma in Reproductive Sciences will be awarded to students failing to progress, or electing not to proceed, beyond the submission of the research project proposal or whose cumulative mark for the year is between 40-49%. The student would then be required to carry out an additional piece of assessable work for the remainder of the summer term e.g. a literature review or an essay, and would then be awarded a Diploma in Reproductive Sciences.

Research Project Proposal Guidelines

Students are expected to prepare a detailed research proposal, in consultation with their chosen supervisor in the form of a Wellcome Trust project grant application form.

The purpose of this proposal is to ensure that students:

  • Have a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature, can make a critical appraisal of the key material in it and can place their proposed project in its context,
  • Can accurately report the work already published in the literature, its significance and how it leads up to the work they intend to do.
  • The structure of the proposal is flexible and is largely up to the students themselves. However, it should include:
  • A short description of the rationale behind their project (why it needs to be done, key aims and how they will be achieved).
  • A discussion of the techniques to be applied.
  • A breakdown of the project into its component parts and a timetable for the completion of each of these tasks (Gantt and/or Pert Charts may be included to illustrate this).
  • Two short appendices, outlining detailed research costs (and justification) associated with the project, and the health & safety considerations involved. Guidance on the structure of these appendices will be provided during the compulsory Project Planning course in April.

The research project proposal should not exceed 5,000 words and should be prepared to a high standard. The report is worth 20 credits of the final mark and will be marked on the basis of the content, structure, style and presentation of the written proposal.

Discussion with project supervisors The research project will be extended to reflect the work that the student intends to tackle, and the student should be prepared to discuss the proposal with project supervisor(s) in the first instance.

Intended Participants The Programme is intended for high calibre students with a Medicine/Veterinary Medicine or Biological Sciences background who are interested in a career in research in the areas of Reproductive Biology/Reproductive Health.

The course serves as an excellent introduction to research in the UK for overseas students intending to proceed to a PhD in the UK. 

How to apply The course is also open to suitably qualified students, both UK and overseas, who can fund themselves and pay the appropriate university fee. 

Please contact Dr Richard Smith, Programme Director by email initially to arrange a telephone or skype meeting prior to making an application.



Application is via the on-line process through College of Medicine and Vet Medicine Webpage.

* Please note: The process asks for details of your research topic. Please give details here of your current research interests. However, this will not limit your choice of research projects. The form also asks for details of your research project. Please enter the following statement: “Research projects will be chosen once the programme is underway” You do not need to enter anything else in this section.


Funding Information for UK/EU students

Information for Overseas Students

For fees see (In addition students must pay the additional programme costs to cover laboratory bench fees of £4,000.

Academic Requirements Students will be expected to have at least a 2-1 Honours degree in the biological sciences (or the equivalent to a 2-1 degree from non-UK universities) or a degree in Medicine or Veterinary Medicine.

Students with a good background in molecular biology, laboratory training and experience in cellular biology will be preferred, though this is not essential, as appropriate laboratory training is given.

Due to current limitations on bench space and personnel, intake to the MSc course is capped at 12-16 students.

Language Requirements The minimum requirements for admission of non-native speakers of English language to the course are:

IELTS of 6.5 with 6.0 in each section or TOEFL-internet based test (iBT) 92 (with at least 20 in each section) or Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) Grade C or Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) Grade B or Pearson Test of English: 61 (with no score lower than 56 in each of the 'Communicative Skills' sections - 'Enabling Skills' section scores are not considered)

Your English Language certificate must be no more than two years old at the beginning of your degree course

Students who have not achieved this level of English are strongly recommended to enrol on one of the summer English language courses in “English for Academic Purposes” operated through the University of Edinburgh Institute of Applied Language Studies (IALS) prior to starting the degree programme in September.

Further details can be found at: 

Required background This programme assumes that you will have a good knowledge of human/mammalian molecular and cell biology at an undergraduate level. As a guide, you should be familiar with much of the material found in a standard undergraduate textbook such as the most recent editions of Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts B et al.). In addition, if you do not have a Reproductive Biology background, you are strongly advised to read the following text book: Essential Reproduction, Johnson MH (6th Edition 2007) Blackwell Publishing ISBN: 978-1-4051-1866-8.(Available on Amazon) If you did not cover the topics outlined below at undergraduate level, you should study the basics for yourself before you arrive. In particular, you should be familiar with the following topics:

Basic Biology

Molecular genetics: an understanding of:

  • DNA structure
  • mRNA structure
  • RNA splicing, including alternative splicing
  • The genetic code (we do not expect you to learn the code by heart!)
  • Regulation of gene expression

Definition and typical structures of:

  • Genes (eukaryotic and prokaryotic)
  • Promoters (eukaryotic and prokaryotic)
  • Enhancers (eukaryotic)

Proteins: an understanding of:

  • Structures of amino acids
  • Protein synthesis
  • How proteins are secreted or targeted to the different cell organelles
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary structure
  • Basic enzyme action

Cell Biology: an understanding of:

  • Basic structure of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells
  • Cytoskeletal elements
  • Basic mechanisms of cell adhesion and cell migration
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Typical ligand-receptor systems (steroid receptors, G-protein coupled receptors, tyrosine kinase receptors, etc)
  • Intracellular signalling systems and signal transduction
  • Mechanisms linking hormone action to gene control
  • Basic mechanisms of mitosis and apoptosis

Technologies Genetic manipulation techniques: You should understand (at least in theory!) how to:

  • Isolate cDNA
  • Perform Southern and Northern Blots
  • Clone DNA into a plasmid or other vector
  • Create and screen a cDNA library
  • Amplify DNA by PCR
  • Transfect cells
  • Create a transgenic (e.g. knockout) mouse
  • Generate tagged and chimaeric proteins

Biochemical techniques: You should understand how the following techniques work:

  • One and two-dimensional SDS-PAGE
  • Immunoblotting
  • Ultracentrifugation
  • Chromatography/ HPLC
  • Affinity chromatography

Cell biology techniques: You should understand how the following techniques work:

  • Routine cell culture
  • Phase contrast microscopy
  • Bright and epifluorescence microscopy
  • Immunocytochemistry

Laboratory skills required:

  • Some laboratory experience
  • Use of micropipettes
  • Ability to make up solutions
  • Simple molecular biology (e.g. making and running a gel)


  • Some histology
  • Cell culture
  • Immunohistochemistry


  • Familiarity with library and literature searching resources (e.g. Pubmed, Medline)

Examples of recent 20-week research projects:

  1. Functional validation of novel candidate targets for human tumor associated macrophages reprogramming in breast cancer
  2. What is the testicular legacy of an altered fetal endocrine environment before birth?
  3. Effects of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) on adult stem cell development
  4. Does the sex of a foetus’ neighbour in the uterus and/or the sex ratio of the litter affect reproductive development in pigs?
  5. The effects of exposure to Bisphenol A on the human fetal testis using a xenograft approach
  6. Exploring the role of the ‘endometriosis-associated’ macrophage in peripheral nerve sensitization
  7. The effect of the selective progesterone receptor modulator, Ulipristal Acetate, on glucocorticoid action in human endometrium
  8. Investigating the basis of intrauterine growth restriction and mortality in Pabp4-deficient mice.
  9. The effect of ablating the androgen receptor in vasculature on ovarian folliculogenesis
  10. The effect of CSF1-Fc on reproductive development in the pig
  11. Can androgens support fertility in women with endometriosis by altering mitochondrial biogenesis?
  12. Investigating the mechanism of androgen repression of pituitary prolactin production
  13. Phenotypic and functional characterization of iPS-derived macrophages

Recent Student Testimonials The following are testimonials from past students on the programme, now studying for a PhD

“The Masters by Research in Reproductive Sciences provided invaluable training in the laboratory with access to the excellent facilities available at the Centre for Reproductive Health. Working across multidisciplinary laboratories, gaining expertise in the reproductive research field and writing reports provided a sound basis for future PhD research.”

“The diverse research areas on offer in the Centre for Reproductive Health and excellent training opportunities ensured I thoroughly enjoyed my MSc by Research in Reproductive Sciences course. I found the experience I gained throughout the year, both in laboratory techniques and verbal and written communication skills, invaluable to my future PhD studies.”

“The MSc course in Reproductive Sciences was the perfect choice for enhancing my academic profile. The practical laboratory training was invaluable and delivered alongside an informative lecture and transferable skills series. I found it to be the ideal stepping stone for pursuing a PhD programme, as it allowed me to gradually become a self-sufficient scientist.”

“The Masters by Research in Reproductive Sciences was an excellent course, because it gave experience in diverse areas of research in this field. The supervision provided, and the setting of the Centre for Reproductive Health were perfectly placed to offer the training I required, and this preparation was of great benefit to me when I started studying for a PhD.”



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