Earth Sciences PhD/MPhil

Start date
PhD: 3 years full-time; MSc (Research); 1 year full time. Part-time options are available for both degrees.
Course Type
Postgraduate, Distance learning, Doctoral research
£4,778 FT (UK students)
£27,360 FT (International Students)
More detail

Our Earth Sciences PhD allows you to undertake research across a wide range of the earth sciences. Our research groups focus on the following themes: hydrogeology; palaeobiology and palaeoenvironments; palaeoclimatology and subsurface structure and properties.

We undertake research across a wide range of the earth sciences and are always pleased to discuss individual research proposals from students. Our research groups focus on the following themes: hydrogeology; palaeobiology and palaeoenvironments; palaeoclimatology and subsurface structure and properties.

Earth Sciences is a vibrant research and postgraduate teaching department with staff working on a broad range of research projects.

Past and current PhD students have been and are funded by the research councils, the petroleum industry, the water industry, the European Union, Nirex, the British Council and overseas governments.

You can study for a PhD on campus or by Distance Learning

Our research groups focus on the following themes:

  • Palaeobiology
  • Palaeoclimates
  • Dynamic Earth

See the 'research interests' tab for more information.

The training opportunities at Birmingham give me the ideal preparation to develop a research career. As an Earth Sciences PhD student, I have learnt data collection and analytic skills relevant to my research topic. Supervisors are very supportive not only during the course of research, but also in preparing scientific publications and grant applications. We are encouraged to participate in academic conferences to exchange research ideas, as well as outreach activities to share our knowledge with the public. Overall, the experiences at Birmingham will put me in a good position to become a scientist.

Fion Ma

Why study this course?

Postgraduate students joining the School benefit from a thriving research community, expert supervision, dedicated training programmes and the opportunity to participate in research seminars and discussions with academic staff. All postgraduate students are provided with dedicated workspaces and have access to excellent computing and laboratory facilities.


Fees for 2024/25

  • Code 0079: UK students £4,778 FT
  • Code 0079: International students £27,360 FT only 
  • Code 0080: UK students £2,389 PT
  • Code 3935: MPhil UK students £4,778 FT
  • Code 3935: MPhil International students £27,360 FT only 
  • Code 3927: MPhil UK students 2,389 PT

Learn more about fees and funding.

Are you an international applicant?

All international applicants to this course will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit of £2,000 on receipt of an offer, to secure their place.

Find out more about the deposit >>.

Scholarships and studentships

We are eligible to receive studentships from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), We also offer a number of our own postgraduate studentships, available to both home and overseas students.

The School is the lead institution for the NERC-funded CENTA Doctoral Training Centre, which funds between five and seven PhD UK/EU studentships at Birmingham each year.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

For further information contact the School directly or get in touch with the Funding, Graduation & Awards via the online enquiries system.

How To Apply

How to apply

To apply for a postgraduate research programme, you will need to submit your application and supporting documents online. We have put together some helpful information on the research programme application process and supporting documents on our how to apply page. Please read this information carefully before completing your application.

Apply now

Our Standard Requirements

Entry on to the courses requires a 2:1 Honours degree in a relevant subject plus a relevant masters degree.

Learn more about entry requirements.

International Requirements

International Students

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

  • IELTS 6.0 with no less than 5.5 in any band
  • TOEFL: 80 overall with no less than 19 in Reading, 19 in Listening, 21 in Speaking and 19 in Writing
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE) including online: Academic 64 with no less than 59 in all four skills
  • Cambridge English (exams taken from 2015): Advanced – minimum overall score of 169, with no less than 162 in any component


The palaeobiology research theme at Birmingham spans an extraordinary range of biological, temporal and spatial scales.

Our research theme includes world-leading systematists and palaeoecologists specializing in organisms ranging from single-celled algae to the largest vertebrates to have walked the Earth (as well as the plants they ate). Researchers have made fundamental contributions to understanding the evolution and diversity of life on Earth, such as the radiation of the earliest fish, the origins of terrestrial vegetation, patterns of dinosaur diversity and the long-term evolution of marine phytoplankton. We have strong synergies and overlap with palaeoenvironmental geochemists and paleoclimatologists with in the Geosystems research group and are actively pursuing research into the complex inter-relationships between the Earth’s biosphere, climate and environment.


Palaeoclimate research at Birmingham integrates sedimentologists, palaeontologists, geochemists and climate modelers to produce an integrated view of ancient palaeoenvironmental change.

Our time periods of study stretch from detailed investigations of the sedimentology and glacial process of Proterozoic “snowball earth” events, to super high-resolution speleothem reconstructions and General Circulation Model simulations of Holocene climate. Analytical facilities available to palaeoclimate researchers in the group include a new organic geochemistry suite dedicated to palaeoenvironmental reconstruction (GC-FID, GC-MS, GC-ir-MS, LC-APCI-MS) as well as trace metal (ICP-MS and –OES), stable isotope and nannoparticle characterisation facilities within the School. Researchers also benefit from significant recent investment in central University analytical capability including, SEM/TEM suite, Secondary Ionistation Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), state-of-the-art XRF and XRD suite. We also have a strong relationship with the NERC Ion Microprobe Facility at the University of Edinburgh with numerous successful grants in the past 2/3 years.

Dynamic Earth

Research in this area includes a range of work on the evolution of rifted margins with a current focus on an international collaborative project involving 3-D seismic profiling of the Iberian margin. The work has important implications for the role of deeply ingressing water, through serpentinization, in guiding the structural history of margins.

Fundamental research on spatial and temporal scales of mantle convection, currently extensively supported by the Irish government, focuses on Cenozoic evolution of the north Atlantic and links to global climate via both modulation of deep-water flow around Iceland and uplift-associated dissocation of gas hydrate. The development of techniques for detecting and quantifying gas hydrates and emissions of methane has been a key aspect of shallow geophysical investigations on continental slopes over the past two decades, including major participation in European programmes as well as NERC support.

Past and current PhD students have been and are funded by the research councils, the petroleum industry, the water industry, the European Union, Nirex, the British Council and overseas governments, and this PhD will equip you to work in organisations such as these.