Postgraduate study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

Geology and Geophysics PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: Geology and Geophysics

This programme draws on the expertise of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Research Institute, which brings together over 100 researchers united by a drive to understand the composition, structure and history of the Earth, as well as the processes which continue to shape the world in which we live.

Research expertise

The breadth of our expertise, ranging across Geology, Geophysics, Geochemistry and Geodynamics, allows us to lead the way in developing innovative interdisciplinary solutions to the biggest questions in Earth Science, allowing us to understand how the subsurface works, from atoms to plates and on timescales from seconds to billions of years.

Research techniques

A great attraction of the institute’s work is the diversity of techniques we employ, including fieldwork, satellite imaging, laboratory studies and numerical computation. When not in Edinburgh, our staff are to be found all over the world, measuring seismic tremors to predict volcanic eruptions, drilling into the seafloor to recover the sediments which will unlock the secrets of ancient climates or finding dinosaur footprints at home in Scotland.

Research topics

Our subject is much more than an intellectual challenge; many of the greatest challenges facing humanity require Earth Science for their solution. Our scientists are leading the way in developing solutions in fields such as clean energy, natural hazards and climate change. This is reflected in our success in attracting research funding from both government and industry sources.

Research community

As a research student you will have the opportunity to engage fully with our scientific community. We host a weekly seminar series alongside smaller research group meetings. Every year we hold an institute symposium at which we present the latest results and discuss the next great challenges to be tackled.

As a postgraduate research student at Edinburgh, you have access to an exceptionally wide range of training courses offered by the many interdisciplinary researchers across the School of GeoSciences, and more broadly across the university.

You will receive guidance both from your supervisory team and the postgraduate research office on appropriate training specific to your research needs and requirements. Additionally, an academic advisor, separate from your direct supervisory team, is always available to help support you and track your progress and welfare throughout your research degree.

Professional development opportunities

Multiple professional development opportunities are available to you throughout your studies to develop your transferable skills, including:

  • Communicating ideas to the public, e.g. 3-Minute Thesis competition, annual PGR Conference
  • Project Management
  • Teaching on the School’s undergraduate programmes in Earth Sciences, Ecological & Environmental Sciences, and Geography

Read more about the training and support offered by:

Facilities are an essential asset for our research and teaching. GeoSciences has a full range of laboratory, field and workshop facilities, all of which are available to postgraduate students. These extend from facilities for sample preparation and mineralogical, physical and inorganic and organic chemical analysis of rock, soil, plant, water and gaseous samples, to state-of-the-art research facilities.

National facilities

The School hosts and manages a number of national facilities on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC):

  • Ion Microprobe Facility
  • Geophysical Equipment Facility
  • Field Spectroscopy Facility.

Our facilities' technical and research staff provide training to students and help them identify the most relevant methods for their research projects or develop new techniques.


The SEM, electron probe micro-analyser and secondary ion mass spectrometry instruments enable imaging, chemical and isotopic analysis of solid materials to 1 micron resolution.

Our X-ray µCT instrument enables 3D and 4D imaging of natural materials and experiments.

The Cosmogenic Nuclide Facility enables isotopic analysis of rocks and sediments to understand landscape evolution.

Our Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry and Laser Ablation facility enables high precision elemental and simultaneous isotope ion analyses for a wide range of liquid and solid materials. Results from this may be coupled with those from the Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry facility to understand oceanic and biogeochemical responses to past and current climate change.

UK Biochar Research Centre (UKBRC)

GeoSciences also hosts the UK Biochar Research Centre (UKBRC) laboratory and pyrolysis facilities which produce the “UKBRC Standard Biochars”, a set of research-grade biochars now used by over 100 research groups worldwide.

Airborne Research and Innovation

In addition to ground-based field instrumentation and our boat for work in rivers, lakes and coasts, Airborne Research and Innovation boasts an Eco Diamond HK36 small aircraft and UAVs supporting research in:

  • ecology
  • atmospheric chemistry
  • micrometeorology
  • forest studies
  • geomorphology
  • agricultural science
  • archaeology
  • palaeontology

Computing facilities

Computing-intensive research in geographic information systems (GIS), meteorological and climate modelling, geophysics, and analysis of space and satellite data, is supported by access to our in-house GIS suite and software licences, and the Edinburgh Computer and Data Facility parallel computing and DataStore facilities. Specialist training for research staff and students in using these facilities and in High Performance Computing is provided by Information Services and the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre.

National and international facilities

Complementing our in-house facilities, GeoSciences research students and staff have access to national and international supercomputing, laboratory, experimental and field facilities. We are regular visitors to X-ray synchrotron facilities in Europe and the USA for research on many themes.

Finally, and as you might expect, one of our most important facilities is planet earth itself. Our students and staff use field stations and facilities worldwide for research projects in the Antarctic, Arctic and tropics, on research ships in the world’s oceans, through aircraft sampling the atmosphere and via remote sensing data from satellites.

These entry requirements are for the 2024/25 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2025/26 academic year will be published on 1 Oct 2024.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in a related subject.

We may also consider your application if you have other qualifications or experience; please contact us to check before you apply.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 6.0 in each component. We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 169 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 62 with at least 59 in each component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries (non-MESC).

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than five years old* at the beginning of your programme of study. (*Revised 05 March 2024 to extend degree validity to five years.)

Find out more about our language requirements:

Additional programme costs

Additional programme costs are normally £1,000 minimum (for full-time students). These costs might be higher depending on the requirements of your specific project.

Tuition fees

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhDGeology and Geophysics3 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhDGeology and Geophysics6 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Featured funding

UK government postgraduate loans

If you live in the UK, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan from one of the UK’s governments.

The type and amount of financial support you are eligible for will depend on:

  • your programme
  • the duration of your studies
  • your tuition fee status

Programmes studied on a part-time intermittent basis are not eligible.

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • School of GeoSciences
  • Grant Institute
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3JW

You must apply at least one month prior to entry so that we have enough time to process your application. If you are also applying for funding or will require a visa then we strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

You must submit two references with your application.

Please see our step-by-step guide to applying for a research degree in the School of GeoSciences. Applications that do not follow application guidelines will be placed on hold and eventually rejected as incomplete:

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • School of GeoSciences
  • Grant Institute
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3JW