Further study (MSc, MRes or PhD)

Further study options after a first degree in the biological sciences or related biosciences for careers in research or academia.

Entry routes


There are reasons for considering a one-year MSc or MRes programme:

  • To upgrade a weak first degree. An excellent MSc mark (over 60%) may compensate for a 2.2.
  • To change fields (say, from BSc Chemistry to a PhD in Genetics), although you’ll still need a good first degree.
  • To try out research and/or a specific field before committing to a PhD programme.


It is generally true that a PhD is the best starting point for a research-based career, whether in academia, industry, the scientific civil service or the NHS. If you want to be involved in R&D as a project leader you need a PhD. If you want an academic career a PhD is usually essential. There are exceptions, so it’s worth doing your research: What type of role do you want to progress on to? What field do you want to work in?

Entry requirements

The competition is tough, especially for good PhD places. To succeed you’ll typically need:

  • A First or 2.1 in a relevant subject (or a 2.2 degree with a good one-year MSc or MRes).
  • Research experience (e.g. relevant lab-based BSc final-year project or MSc/MRes project).
  • Strong academic references.
  • A good knowledge of the subject, as well an interest in the proposed area of research.
  • Evidence of problem-solving abilities and an analytical approach.
  • A professional attitude, including the ability to see things through.

You’ll need to demonstrate some of these qualities in your personal statement. Think about how to indicate the following.

  • How your experience, skills and academic background, including your current studies, have prepared you for the programme.
  • Your motivation and commitment for further study, including your reasons for selecting this particular course at this particular institution and how it links to your career plans.
  • Evidence that you see things through, that you are the sort to complete what you start (especially important for PhDs!).

Application process


Start your research in the second year. FindAMasters is a comprehensive database of postgraduate Masters.

Try to apply early in the cycle. Many institutions start accepting applications from October/November and stop when the places have been filled. Some programmes have specific deadlines.


Students can be recruited all year round and the dates vary from project to project, often corresponding with funding patterns. There are, however, annual cycles with a start date in October.

First – from the second-year onwards – think about the area you’d like to work in. Talk to your personal tutor and/or third-year project supervisor.

Second, do your research: findaphd.com or the PhD Portal on jobs.ac.uk good starting points. Look at department websites, and remember that PhDs may become available at any time.  There may be benefit in a speculative application with a CV/letter if there are specific people you’d like to work with.

Think about funding. You may be offered a PhD place with no financial support. Scholarships are hard to get, so projects which are specifically funded are worth finding.

Undergraduate preparation

There are a number of things you can do as an undergraduate to improve your chances.

  • Improve your academic performance! Get the best possible grades in Years 1 and 2.
  • Look for additional research experience. Consider a Year in Industry/Abroad, or a vacation research placement, whether funded (competitive) or voluntary.
  • Gain relevant employability/professional experience (consider internships or relevant voluntary work).
  • Join a professional society (e.g. the Society of Biology).
  • Think about student conferences and competitions.

Our support

Our four-year degree programmes provide an opportunity to gain experience through a Year in Industry, a Year in Europe (Erasmus) or Year in North America.

Gain laboratory experience in the holidays through a vacation research placement in the School of Biological Sciences. There is advice on how to find placements in the School on the CABS blog.

Find out what research is being done within the School. If you are not going to be based in Leicester then investigate opportunities at universities closer to home.

  • Contact individuals conducting research that interests you. Let them know that you are interested in a placement and give them some information about yourself. (It might be worth mentioning your first-year marks or predicted grades.)
  • Meet with the staff member as soon as possible. Even if there is an independent application process it is useful to discuss any opportunities with them first.

There is also information regarding funding for summer studentships on the CABS blog.

Consider taking part in some of the School's competitions: for example, iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machines). See the University of Leicester iGEM 2012 blog.

Useful links

UCAS – Postgraduate courses.

FindAMasters: A comprehensive database of postgraduate Masters courses.

Doing a PhD video talk on the CABS blog.

FindAPhD: A guide to current postgraduate research and PhD studentships.

PhD Portal on jobs.ac.uk: A guide to current PhDs, research studentships and professional doctorates.

Vitae: The UK organisation championing the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes.

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University of Leicester
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T: +44 (0)116 252 2907
E: bsadmin@le.ac.uk

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Information about careers can be found in the Biological Sciences


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