Postgraduate study at the Natural History Museum
With a long history of scientific research into its collections, the Natural History Museum has played a key role in training the next generation of scientists for many years, at both the Masters and PhD levels.
PhD students have been registered at a range of UK and other universities. In the past the studentships were set up on an individual basis depending on the research area and personal collaborations, and with different sources of funding.
Today, PhD studentships are more often (but not exclusively) organised within the context of Doctoral Training Programmes funded by UK research councils or European research initiatives.
This shift has also introduced a broader skills training emphasis to the PhD experience, recognising that many doctoral graduates do not stay in strictly academic or research environments, but are employed across professional organisations and industry.
The Natural History Museum is recognised as a leading scientific research facility, placing it alongside leading UK research universities, top research institutes in the UK and a small leading group of international natural history museums.
Its publication record places it in the top group of international natural history museum and comparable with UK research institutes and universities. Its distinctive value and strengths derive from its foundation on the collections and the integration of research, public engagement, training and education.
The Natural History Museum collaborates on training for over one hundred postgraduate students from different universities at any one time, collaborating with core groups of UK universities to secure competitive funding.
The Museum’s expertise, research interests, collections and facilities are part of the national profile of provision, and contribute to training the next generation of scientists in collections-based research, investing in an effective future of museum development and scientific enterprise.
What can you study?
PhD studies are possible with the Museum and any university, dependent on the supervisory team for the project. There must always be a university supervisor since the Natural History Museum does not confer degrees.
The Natural History Museum is a formal partner in the following MRes courses:
- MREs in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation with University College London
- MRes in Biosystematics with Imperial College
- MSc Biodiversity and Global Change with University College London
In these masters, research projects can be undertaken at the Natural History Museum.
We also teach an MSc in Taxonomy, Biodiversity and Evolution with Imperial College, and will be contributing to an MSc in Practical Entomology with the University of Sheffield.
PhD study: funding via research councils through Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs), Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) or institutional allocations.
Some CDTs are structured so that the first year constitutes an MRes degree, the candidate then moving on to PhD study for the remaining three years.
Masters courses: these are usually self-funded although it is now possible to obtain loans for undertaking an MSc or MRes. This can be used towards fees and living costs.
NHM is a partner in eight NERC DTPs:
- ACCE - Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment
- ARIES - Advanced Research and Innovation in the Environmental Sciences
- CENTA - the Central England NERC Training Alliance
- GW4+ - Great Western Four+
- INSPIRE - the Interdisciplinary Southampton Partnership for Investigators Researching the Environment
- LONDON - the London NERC DTP
- OXFORD - Oxford DTP in Environmental research
- SSCP - Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet
Through these various partnerships we have links with the following universities:
- Sheffield, York, Liverpool (ACCE)
- University of East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Plymouth, Royal Holloway Earth Sciences (ARIES)
- Birmingham, Cranfield, Leicester, Loughborough, Open University, Warwick (CENTA)
- Bristol, Bath, Cardiff, Exeter (GW4+)
- Southampton (INSPIRE)
- Brunel, Birkbeck, Kings College London, Queen Mary University of London, Royal Holloway, University College
- London (LONDON)
- Oxford (OXFORD)
- Imperial College London (SSCP)
These provide links with:
- Brighton, Oxford, University College London (SEAHA)
- Royal Holloway, University of London; Brunel University, London; Kingston University; Loughborough University, London; University of Brighton; University of Roehampton; University of the Arts London; University of Surrey; University of Westminster (TECHNĒ)
In addition STFC funding enables collaborations into planetary science with: the Open University, Glasgow University, Birkbeck, Imperial College and University College London.
NHM students have access to the research facilities across the museum to prepare, analyse and interpret biological, mineralogical, paleontological and genetic samples.
3D Vis Lab, CT and Micro-CT, Chemical Analysis, Confocal Microscopy, Electron Microscopy, Light Microscopy, Micro-Analysis, Mineralogy Prep Lab, X-ray Diffraction, Electronic and Light Engineering Workshop
(GIS) Geographic Information Systems Facility, Data Management
Paper Conservation, Mechanical Preparation
DC2 Molecular Labs, Whale Basement Molecular Lab, Sequencing Facility
Training and support
This comprises the Head of Postgraduate Studies (Dr Eileen J. Cox) and the Postgraduate Administrator (Ms Anna Hutson) and manages practical issues around PhD students in the NHM. This includes ensuring that they have appropriate support in accessing NHM facilities and all financial aspects around studentships.
The Head of Postgraduate Studies organises the NHM training programme and also provides pastoral support to the students. She also liaises with supervisors.
There is a postgraduate surgery every Thursday afternoon, which is an opportunity for individuals to have one-to-one conversations with the Head of Postgraduate Studies.
NHM PhD training programme
A full day induction to working in the NHM, including Health and safety, Security, IT, library and laboratory procedures, as well as background on the work and organisation of the museum, the structure and role of the Postgraduate Office, and other practical issues.
Training needs analysis. All new students should undertake a training needs analysis to assess and guide their development needs. Technical training is provided by relevant laboratory and curatorial staff.
First year talks
All new students give a 10 min introduction to their PhD topic to their NHM peers and supervisors within a couple of months of their start.
NHM student conference
A two-day annual conference is organised by the student committee. All NHM students are expected to attend, giving a poster presentation in year two, and an oral talk in year three. Given the range of disciplines and PhD topics within the museum, this requires students to present their science to a diverse (postgraduate) audience. It is also an important networking event.
The student committee also select and invite external speakers to give key note lectures. Past speakers have included: Prof Steve Jones, Sir David Attenborough, Baroness Susan Greenfield, Dr Simon Singh, Prof Iain Stewart, Prof Gideon Henderson, Prof Chris Stringer, Dr Erica McAlister, Quentin Cooper, Prof Robin Dunbar, Dr Peter Grindrod. Prof Christopher Jackson, Dr Lucy Hawkes, Prof Monica Grady, George McGavin, Prof Simon Conway Morris.
Workshops usually run on a Wednesday afternoon (two-three hours) covering a range of topics (see below) and are invariably highly interactive. Working with small groups allows the needs of individual students to be addressed more effectively, and students are encouraged to suggest topics for workshops or other training events.
Some workshops are also open to post-doc researchers in the NHM, who provide additional viewpoints and personal experience.