Information for prospective students

The current postgraduate prospectus includes subject specific information on our areas of expertise.

Research Degrees

Why study for a postgraduate research degree?

The decision to carry out a postgraduate research degree should not be made lightly. Whatever you choose to study, you will need to enjoy and be interested in the subject to keep yourself motivated for the length of your degree, which, for a PhD, is likely to be at least three years. If you are going to commit this time – and resources - to a project, you need to be absorbed by it, know that you enjoy working independently, be happy with what's on offer from the institute within which you want to study, and like the location in which you choose to live.

Although the focus of a PhD project is very specialised, it is also an excellent opportunity to learn and develop skills such as organisation, self-motivation and independent planning.

Postgraduate research with us

View available PhD studentship opportunities here.

We can offer the following research degrees:

  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
  • MLitt (Master of Letters)
  • MSc by Research (Master of Science by Research)
  • MRes (Master of Research)

A research degree involves an extended period of supervised research resulting in a thesis which “makes a distinct contribution to knowledge and affords evidence of originality as shown by the exercise of independent critical powers”. When you study for a research degree with us, you will be based in one of our academic partners that specialises in your field of research.  You will work independently under the guidance of a Director of Studies and a small supervisory team with relevant expertise. You will also be allocated a third party monitor; an active researcher based in another academic partner, who will be available to offer pastoral support and guidance.

You will have regular meetings with your supervisory team throughout your studies and will be expected to complete regular progress monitoring reports to ensure that your research and writing are progressing well and any concerns are addressed in a timely fashion.  You will have access to a wide range of training and development opportunities to support your studies.

Academic areas

Subject to availability of academic staff, we can offer postgraduate research student supervision in the following academic areas (links to all colleges are at the bottom of the page):



Archaeology of the Highlands and Islands
Archaeological Resource Management
Archaeological Geophysics

Lews Castle College UHI, Orkney College UHI, Shetland College UHI

Biomedical Sciences

Centre for Health Science


Lews Castle College UHI, North Highland College UHI, Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, Perth College UHI

Environmental science

North Highland College UHI, Inverness College UHI

Fine Art

Moray College UHI

Gaelic and Related Studies

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI


Centre for History

Marine Science

Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI

Northern Studies

Inverness College UHI; Lews Castle College UHI; Moray College UHI; Orkney College UHI; Perth College UHI; Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI; Shetland College UHI

Rural Health

Centre for Rural Health & Wellbeing

Sustainability Studies

Centre for History, Centre for Rural Health & Wellbeing, Inverness College UHI, Lews Castle College UHI, Orkney College UHI, Perth College UHI, Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, Shetland College UHI, West Highland College UHI


Highland Theological College UHI


How to apply

Entry qualifications

You must possess one of the following in an appropriate discipline:

  • A master’s degree at postgraduate level from a university in the United Kingdom or equivalent, or
  • A first or upper second class honours degree from a university in the United Kingdom or equivalent, or
  • Other qualifications or experience which equate to the academic level required and sufficiently demonstrate the benefit of postgraduate research study to the applicant (to be approved by the Research Degrees Committee on the recommendation of the Principal of the Academic Partner concerned).

If you are an international student from a non-English speaking country, you will be required to possess an IELTS qualification with a score of 6.5 (with at least a 6 in writing), gained within two years prior to your registration date, unless you have a prior UK degree or can provide suitable evidence (to be approved by the University of Aberdeen) of your standard of English.

An English language test is not required if a student is a national of one of the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America.

How to apply

There is no national system for applying for postgraduate research study in the way that UCAS operates at undergraduate level.

Step 1: Make contact with relevant academic staff by searching our Research Database using keywords related to your subject of interest for them to consider your application in detail; to ensure you meet the entrance requirements; to develop a suitable research proposal, title and plan; assign a Director of Studies; establish an appropriate supervisory team; and discuss funding.

Here's a handy guide to writing a good research proposal.

Step 2: Complete an application form with your proposed Director of Studies.

Step 3: Your application will be submitted by the proposed Director of Studies to the university's Research Degrees Committee for approval.

Further information on all aspects of applying to study for a postgraduate research degree is available from the Graduate School. Please contact us if you cannot find the information you are looking for on these pages or would like to be put in touch with an academic within your area of study.

Postgraduate research activity

Student Profiles

Paul Gaffney

About Paul:
I am in fourth year writing up after lab and fieldwork. I am based at the Environmental Research Institute, North Highland College UHI in Thurso. My research looks at the impact of large scale conifer felling for blanket bog restoration on water quality.
What is the best thing about being a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands?
The location is a major advantage studying environmental science. I like being in a small, friendly institute with the chance to take part in events across the university.
What has been your proudest moment?
I was able to go on a field trip to Western Siberia looking at the peatlands there. One day a Russian TV crew turned up doing interviews for the news - that was pretty cool!

Linda Ross

About Linda:
I started in October 2015 so I’m currently getting my head around reading and archival material. I’m based at the Centre for History.
My PhD is: “The second Industrial Revolution?” An exploration and analysis of the physical impact of Dounreay Nuclear Power Research Establishment on the Far North of Scotland.
What is the best thing about being a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands?
Studying here feels ‘different’, in a very good way. It’s fantastic that potential students have the opportunity to head or stay north rather than leaving as I did.
What has been your proudest moment?
I’ve captured images of hydro schemes, recording industry in rural areas in my own way. I’m proud these images have gained recognition, with two currently on display at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Lewis Drysdale

About Lewis: 

I am mostly based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI in Oban but I do spend a considerable amount of time in Cambridge as well, as my project is partnered with British Antarctic Survey. My research project is "Arctic fjords: simple modelling and the role of freshwater".
What is the best thing about being a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands?
Training support! The university's research, training and conference fund has supported me on a field school to Svalbard in the High Arctic and I will be relying on it to further support me as I attend national and international conferences to present my research.
What has been your proudest moment?
Graduating from my undergraduate degree at SAMS UHI and being the first recipient of the Tim Boyd memorial prize for Arctic Oceanography knowing I was about to start a PhD in arctic sciences.

Siobhan Cooke

About Siobhan:
I am in the final year of study and am based at the Archaeology Institute, Orkney College UHI. My research aims to characterise the nature of human-animal relations in Viking and Norse Scotland, seeking to determine how the human-animal relationship is used in the construction of human identity.
What is the best thing about being a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands?
I think it is fantastic to be able to study at this level in my hometown, something that I wouldn’t have thought possible when I was south at university studying for my undergraduate degree. Orkney is the perfect location to study archaeology – from Neolithic to the archaeology of the World Wars – there is something for every interest.
What has been your proudest moment?
I think every achievement is something to be proud of – but crossing a marathon finish line is definitely up there, a totally euphoric experience!

Andrew French

About Andrew:
I am in my final year of study at the Environmental Research Institute at North Highland College UHI in Thurso. My research looks at linking habitat characteristics with red deer condition in the Scottish Highlands.
What is the best thing about being a PhD student at the University of the Highlands and Islands?
The easy access to specialised laboratory equipment that in other institutions would probably have long waiting lists.
What has been your proudest moment?
Winning the university’s research conference student poster competition with my poster about liver parasites!