Postgraduate study at the NHM

NHM postgrad students on the steps at the Musuem front entrance

With a long history of scientific research into its collections, the NHM 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.

Reputation

The NHM 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 NHM 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 NHM and any university, dependent on the supervisory team for the project. There must always be a university supervisor since the NHM does not confer degrees.

The NHM is a formal partner in two MRes courses: an MREs in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation with University College London and an MRes in Biosystematics with Imperial College. In both cases, research projects can be undertaken at the NHM.

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 from autumn 2019.

NHM postgrad students on a geology field trip

Funding sources

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.

University collaborations

NHM is a partner in eight NERC DTPs:

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)

We are also a partner in an EPSRC CDT - SEAHA (Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology) and an AHRC DTP - TECHNĒ (the ‘craft’ of research in the arts and humanities).

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 postgrad students on a life sciences field trip

Facilities

NHM students have access to the research facilities across the museum to prepare, analyse and interpret biological, mineralogical, paleontological and genetic samples.

Imaging and Analysis Centre

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

Collections Management Systems

(GIS) Geographic Information Systems Facility, Data Management

Conservation Centre

Paper Conservation, Mechanical Preparation

Molecular Laboratories

DC2 Molecular Labs, Whale Basement Molecular Lab, Sequencing Facility

Training and support

Postgraduate Office

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

Induction

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 postgrad students showing off their posters at the annual student conference
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.

Workshop programme

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.

Workshops include:

A researcher engaging with the public in the galleries of the Museum

Engagement

There are many opportunities for NHM students to participate in public engagement activities, receiving training as appropriate. These include:

Questions about our courses?

If you have any questions, please contact the Postgrad Office

Examples of PhD research opportunities

Each year, we offer a range of PhD studentships. Please visit our list of previously offered PhD opportunities to see examples of the research topics we cover.