Postgraduate study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

Biological Sciences PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: Biological Sciences

Based in King's Buildings Campus at the University of Edinburgh, our staff and students within the School of Biological Sciences are the modern inheritors of a 400-year-old reputation for excellence with Nobel laureates among our notable alumni.

Currently at the leading edge in teaching, research and innovation, we are ranked top 5 in the UK and top 30 in the world for biological sciences in both the QS and Times Higher Education world university rankings (2024).

Key to our success is the highly dynamic and supportive research environment we offer our postgraduate research community; we offer students the tools and confidence they need to make a lasting, positive impact in our world.

Within the School our research is clustered into six large research institutes:

Join our community and undertake a specialised research project under the guidance of two experienced and well-published supervisors. Our staff have a wide range of research interests and we strongly encourage interdisciplinary research, working closely with physical sciences, engineering, medical and veterinary sciences.

Our PhD programmes are available as full-time or part-time study. The full-time route is 36 months and part-time 72 months, with study normally commencing in October. Both modes of study have an optional additional 12 months, commonly used to write up the final thesis.

The first year of PhD studies is probationary. Your supervisor will identify your training needs and invite you to attend relevant training as appropriate. To successfully progress onto the next year of study students must pass an annual review.

Annual reviews

Year 1

Students submit a 10-week report and a 10-month report, both assessed by the thesis committee. Each committee comprises of the student's supervisory team, the committee chair, and up to two additional academic staff members.

The 10-week report is a short report outlining the project, with the 10-month report an extended version that includes a literature survey. While meeting their thesis committee, students deliver an oral presentation of their work.

Year 2

Students complete a presentation during the School’s annual Poster Day. Academic staff and peers review presentations, with feedback discussed with the thesis committee during a 2nd year review meeting.

Year 3

Students deliver a presentation to academic staff and their peers, traditionally during their Institute’s annual symposium. They also submit a thesis plan for their 3rd year review meeting that contains a timetable for completion, content listings of each chapter, completed work and highlighting outstanding tasks.

To be awarded a PhD, students must submit their final thesis and defend it in an oral examination (assessed according to the University's regulations).

We encourage support in a range of academic subjects, transferable skills and personal development. All students who join the programme will have access to our core training and development programme or our specialist cohort-programmes (e.g. EASTBIO).

Our training environment is highly dynamic, with students learning through hands-on, laboratory-based projects as well as guided reading, one-to-one supervision, group seminars, societies and workshops.

The University of Edinburgh Main Library, open to all students, has one of the largest and most important collections in Britain. It has some two million items including the latest publications, key texts, and rare books.

The School of Biological Sciences is based wholly within King's Buildings and in close proximity to the Noreen and Kenneth Murray Library, well stocked with specialist literature, subscription databases and group study rooms and silent study spaces.

Students, dependent on their field of study, will also have access to a range of specialist laboratories and equipment, and state-of-the-art facilities. Examples include:

  • imaging facilities including the Central Optical Instrumentation Laboratory (COIL) and Collaborative Optical Spectroscopy Micromanipulation & Imaging Centre (COSMIC)
  • advanced flow cytometry facilities, including sorting and analysis
  • cutting-edge proteomics facility and automated drug-screening platforms
  • Edinburgh Genomics, a University-based sequencing and bioinformatics facility
  • multiomics facilities
  • the Edinburgh Genome Foundry
  • cell culture facilities
  • expertise in genomic editing (animal and plant)
  • animal and plant facilities

The School also has strong collaborative links to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to give access to an even broader range of facilities and expertise.

Postgraduate students are given their own desk space in shared student offices and have similar access to facilities available to academic and support staff. Wireless network access is available in many parts of the University campus.

The School of Biological Sciences offers training events and support for all our postgraduate research students in both academic and key life skills. In collaboration with the University’s Institute of Academic Development (IAD), we also provide a supportive training programme for students hired as tutors and demonstrators.

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 international equivalent, in a relevant subject. You should have some research experience and be able to demonstrate that you have a good understanding of the field you propose to study.

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:

Academic Technology Approval Scheme

If you are not an EU, EEA or Swiss national, you may need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme clearance certificate in order to study this programme.

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhDBiological Sciences3 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhDBiological Sciences4 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhDBiological Sciences8 YearsPart-timeTuition fees
  • Graduate School of Biological Sciences
  • Mary Brück Building
  • Colin Maclaurin Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3DW

We encourage you to 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, and before the funding deadline.

You must submit two references with your application.

You should submit two references with your application. Before applying you should identify potential supervisors from the School of Biological Sciences and discuss your proposal.

You can find more information on how to apply at our website:

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

Further information

  • Graduate School of Biological Sciences
  • Mary Brück Building
  • Colin Maclaurin Road
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3DW