The School of Biological Sciences provides PhD and MPhil (research degree) programmes in subjects ranging from basic biochemistry, molecular genetics and cancer research, to agricultural science, marine ecology and the economic evaluation of ecosystem services and food retailing. If you have a topic or research question in mind, please contact a supervisor to identify the most appropriate member of staff to support your idea. If not, don't worry, we regularly advertise funded projects and there is no harm in browsing our academic staff profiles for inspiration and then contacting whoever seems best: we are very open to applications from suitably qualified people interested in scientific research. In every case, a PhD or MPhil course provides the means of being part of a cutting edge scientific research team and contributing to genuine new discoveries or the development of new methods for practical use. If you cannot study full time, we offer pro-rata part-time research degree programmes as well.
To help orientation, the School is organised into three research theme clusters:
Ecosystem Biology and Sustainability
Microbes and Pathogen Biology
Food Safety and Nutrition
Ecosystem Biology and Sustainability
In this cluster, you could research biodiversity and ecosystem services for environments ranging from tropical forests to deep oceans, using field techniques and skills such as wildlife tracking, taxonomy, geostatistics, molecular and genetic ecology, foodweb-analysis, microcosm and mesocosm experiments and mathematical/computational methods. Alternatively, you could study the behaviour and temperament of wild, agricultural or domestic animals and their implications for welfare and ability to respond to environmental change. Potential research projects include phylogenetic analysis of rare and newly discovered species, examination of ecological interactions in tropical systems, agricultural soils, or marine communities, using state-of-the-art genetic analysis, surveys using drones or satellite tagging, or experiments in tanks and field plots, including careful and ethical examinations of animal behaviour. Projects range from theoretical analysis of stability in ecosystems, through the discovery of new species and mechanisms of interaction, or responses to climate change, to the assessment of EU agri-environment schemes, development of new methods for commercial fisheries management and economic evaluations of conservation measures. Projects very often have an international dimension and include collaboration with other researchers worldwide.
Microbes and Pathogen Biology
This cluster covers a diverse array of research interests united by an emphasis on molecular approaches applied to both fundamental and applied questions over the range from molecular to ecological systems. These interests include biochemistry, food safety, microbiology and parasite control with applications in human and animal health, nutrition, plant and soil sciences, and agricultural development. We have a long-standing reputation in parasite biology and in applied microbiology (for example in clearing the land of contamination) as well as strong contributions to fundamental methods in understanding cancer, developing veterinary vaccines and molecular detectors for toxins and diseases. The common thread is our strong molecular approach using and developing cutting edge genomic, transcriptomic/proteomic methods. Research students in this cluster enjoy a range of strong international links across Europe, Asia, North and South America.
Food Safety and Nutrition
Research opportunities offered by this cluster span the entire food chain "from farm to fork" with a strong emphasis on food safety and nutrition, public health and food security. In this cluster you would conduct research under the supervision of leading scientists based in the Institute for Global Food Security and benefit from integration with business experts, helping you gain leadership positions nationally and internationally.
Biological Sciences Highlights
The School has a wide range of strong, international links with governments, academia and industry, into which postgraduate research students are integrated.
Research students will have access to laboratory space as required (in our state-of-the-art research laboratories) and where relevant, also a range of field study sites and equipment (e.g. remote sensing drone equipment). They also have access to local and campus-wide high-performance computing facilities and the full strength of our world-class library. Many students also benefit from the strong collaboration network maintained by our academic staff, which could result in working in the laboratories of partner organisations in industry and government as well as in the University, under specific arrangements.
Students studying in the Food Safety and Nutrition programme will gain excellent practical experience of advanced technology and bioanalytical techniques for food safety analysis and monitoring, including:
GC, HPLC and UPLC separation platforms;
ICP, IR, qToF and QqQ mass spectrometers;
Microbiological research facilities;
Antibody production and biomolecule binder development;
Cell culture suite and bioanalytical assay detection systems;
NMR, NIR and Raman spectrometers;
Proteomic and metabolomic profiling tools RT-PCR;
Multiplex biosensor platforms and LFD development.
Most of the critical problems facing humanity - disease, climate change and food security - require biological understanding to solve them.
Queen's postgraduates reap exceptional benefits. Unique initiatives, such as Degree Plus and Researcher Plus bolster our commitment to employability, while innovative leadership and executive programmes alongside sterling integration with business experts help our students gain key leadership positions both nationally and internationally. Career prospects in the biological sciences are exceptionally good. To some extent, it depends on the specific topic, of course, but laboratory-based and especially quantitative skills and the proven innovation of a PhD or MPhil are highly sought after. Degrees are very much in demand, both in commercial science and public sector research and development (e.g. drug discovery and development, crop and animal improvements and welfare, sustainable agriculture and resource use, human nutrition and health, animal health, ecological management, food safety and technology, scientific communications, regulation, and many more fields).
Employment after the Course
Graduates have gone on to be professional research scientists, consultants, or hold technical and junior executive positions in commerce and government.
A postgraduate research degree involves the undertaking of independent research under the guidance of a professional academic supervisory team, typically using the laboratory facilities on offer in one or more of the teams' labs. The student will be expected to develop their own ideas and learn the methods needed to test them empirically and theoretically. This usually involves learning and practising both laboratory (and or field) skills as well as developing a strong theoretical background in the relevant subject.
As well as practical work, all the activities of independent academic scholarship, such as literature searching and critical appraisal, written and verbal communications and academic networking will be developed during a research degree. Independence and innovation will be strongly encouraged, but the student will be supported by regular supervisory guidance and a wide range of courses will also be on offer, both in subject-specific skills and generic skills, especially supported by the Graduate School.
Students are encouraged to interact with one another and with members of academic staff and postdoctoral scientists to build confidence and informal learning, through a range of ‘research culture’ activities, including peer groups where students get together to discuss topical research papers or methods, or just chat about their interests.
Research degrees vary in length, but typically for a PhD they are three or four years long (full-time) and double that for part-time studies. They follow an annual cycle of progress with formal panel-based appraisals of the progress, the outcome of which is typically practical and academic advice about how to overcome problems encountered and how to move to the next stage. During each year, students are expected to supplement their studies with some tailored courses, ranging from highly specific (e.g. learning to use a piece of apparatus or technique) to generic (e.g. developing an oral presentation or leadership skills). Every stage is supported by the supervisory team, augmented by an independent panel of progress monitors as well as the full support of the Graduate School.
Assessment processes for the Research Degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present drafts of their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.
This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.
The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.
Supervisors will offer feedback on draft work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.
Full-time research students will have access to shared office space and access to a desk with a personal computer and internet access.
The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.
For information on international qualification equivalents, please contact for the specific information for your country.
English Language Requirements
Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.5, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required (*taken within the last 2 years).
International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for the English language for visa purposes.
If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.
Academic English: an intensive English language and study skills course for successful university study at degree level.
Pre-sessional English: a short intensive academic English course for students starting a degree programme at Queen's University Belfast and who need to improve their English.
Northern Ireland (NI) 1: £4,500
Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2: £4,500
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1: £4,500
EU Other 3: £22,000
1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however, this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however, this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees, in line with the Common Travel Agreement arrangements. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.
All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22 and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase unless explicitly stated otherwise.
Additional course costs
Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs that are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies. Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.
How to Apply
Identify your Research Area: When you are considering your research question or proposal, identify a suitable research centre or School at Queen’s that aligns with your project.
Check the requirements: Check that you meet, or expect to meet the academic and, if applicable, English language requirements for your programme. Also bear in mind that if you are applying for funding, there might be an application deadline. So keep an eye to see if your programme has a closing date for applications too.
Speak to your supervisor: If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions. If you have your own research idea, contact the relevant School to discuss it with us. If you are unsure of who to contact, find someone in your field of interest and use the 'make a PhD enquiry' button. You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.
Finalise your Research Proposal: When you have spoken with an academic at Queen's and have developed your research ideas, it is time to finalise your research proposal. View our guide to writing a research proposal.
Apply: Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions.
Get your decision: When we've made a decision, we'll send you an email that will advise you to log on to the Postgraduate Applications Portal to view the decision.