MSc Taxonomy, Biodiversity and Evolution

Bleached coral

Bleached coral © Nicholas de Voys

One year course in taxonomy, systematics and evolutionary biology, providing the theoretical foundations and methods for studying the great diversity of the living world.

Course description

This flagship course is taught mostly on the premises of the Museum and gives unparalleled access to our research staff and collections.

The course is a one-year full-time programme, but part-time options over two and three years are available.

The course consists of:

  • 20 weeks of taught modules (October to March), and includes a mini-project in phylogenetics and phylogenomics;
  • a student research project (16 weeks, April to September).

Aims and objectives

Students on the MSc course will be trained to a high level of competence in systematics and a detailed understanding of the various uses and problems involved.

This course provides in-depth training in the study of biodiversity based on the principles of phylogenetics, evolutionary biology, palaeobiology and taxonomy. It emphasises quantitative approaches and current methods in DNA-based phylogenetics, bioinformatics, and the use of digital collections.

Taxonomy and systematics provide the foundation for studying the great diversity of the living world and its evolutionary history. These fields are rapidly changing through new digital and molecular technologies.

There is an ever greater need for species identification and monitoring in virtually all environmental sciences, and evolutionary ‘tree thinking’ is now applied widely in most areas of the life sciences.

Course content

The taught course consists of separate modules:

  • Taxonomy of major groups and the Tree-of-Life: an introduction of major branches of the Tree, including identification exercises.
  • Statistics and computing: a two-week intensive course at Silwood Park.
  • Field course: trapping and collecting techniques for terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Phylogenetic reconstruction: the principles of building phylogenetic trees.
  • Molecular systematics: generating and analysing molecular data; model-based phylogenetics.
  • Phylogenomics: genomic techniques for studying evolutionary processes and biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity (concepts): speciation, radiation, macroevolution, evolution & development.
  • Biodiversity (applied): measuring biodiversity, geospatial analysis, collection management and biodiversity informatics.
  • Palaeobiology: studying the fossil record and what we can learn about biodiversity.

How to apply

Applications are processed through Imperial College London.

Entry requirements

The minimum qualification for admission is an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) degree in any area of biology or related science-based subject (palaeontology, geology, marine biology, anthropology, environmental sciences) from a UK academic institution, or an equivalent overseas qualification.

Extensive relevant work experience with a lower degree will be considered in special cases

Non-UK applicants

Advice on the academic requirements from overseas institutions can be found on Imperial's postgraduate website.

Key information

Start date: October 2023

Campus: South Kensington

Duration: 1 year full-time, 2-3 years part-time

Tuition fees for 2023 entry

Home students

Full-time (1 year) £14,300 per year

Overseas students

Full-time (1 year) £28,300 per year


Students in the past have gained funding from additional sources.